Pygmy Rac­coon Cozumel’s En­demic and Cute Species

The crit­i­cally en­dan­gered mam­mal is en­demic to the Caribbean is­land, and strug­gling to avoid ex­tinc­tion

The Playa Times Riviera Maya's English Newspaper - - Animal Welfare - NASH

The is­land of Cozumel is the only place you will find the pygmy rac­coon, also known as the Cozumel rac­coon. The pygmy rac­coon looks sim­i­lar to a com­mon rac­coon in­clud­ing the rec­og­niz­able black mask but has a gold col­ored tail and a black band around their throat. Their snout is rounded, and the males have a patch of or­ange fur on the scruff of their neck. The pygmy rac­coon is half the size of a com­mon rac­coon, at only about 58 to 82 cm long in­clud­ing the tail and weigh­ing ap­prox­i­mately three to four kilo­grams.

They are a sep­a­rate species from com­mon rac­coons and con­sid­ered to be an in­su­lar dwarf which oc­curs when an an­i­mal evolves phys­i­cally to ac­com­mo­date a small en­vi­ron­ment, such as an is­land. They are mainly noc­tur­nal, but can be seen beg­ging for a few un­healthy potato chips from tourists dur­ing the day. The rac­coons mate with as many part­ners as pos­si­ble and re­searchers as­sume fe­males give birth to two lit­ters a year. Once the kits are born the fa­ther has no part in par­ent­hood, their mother nurses them and teaches the lit­ter to sur­vive.

Liv­ing on the coast­line and in the man­groves, this an­i­mal feeds mainly on crabs and crus­taceans but, their diet in­cludes frogs, lizards, in­sects and fruit as well.

This rac­coon is one of the most en­dan­gered car­ni­vores and ac­cord­ing to The In­ter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (IUCN) red list; there are only 250-300 re­main­ing on earth. The al­ready small pop­u­la­tion of pygmy rac­coons was se­verely af­fected by hur­ri­canes and the de­struc­tion of their habi­tat. As de­vel­op­ment threat­ens man­groves they are be­com­ing more iso­lated and at higher risk of ex­tinc­tion. These tiny rac­coons are now con­tained to the north­west tip of the is­land.

The other threats to their sur­vival are feral cats and street dogs. Street an­i­mals ex­pose the rac­coons to in­fec­tious dis­eases, such as mange and dis­tem­per. The dogs and cats are also di­rect preda­tors. The boa con­stric­tor, another non­na­tive preda­tor, brought to the is­land by hu­mans, now poses a dan­ger to the rac­coons. The pygmy rac­coon is now pro­tected by Mex­i­can law and listed as a threat­ened species by SE­MAR­NAT, but de­for­esta­tion is still go­ing on in the name of tourism. There are plans to cre­ate a cap­tive breed­ing pro­gram and to con­trol the feral cats, stray dogs, and boa con­stric­tors in hopes they will not dis­ap­pear for­ever.

Pygmy rac­coons are at risk of ex­tinc­tion due to man­grove de­struc­tion on Cozumel /

Photo: Christo­pher Gon­za­les (Flikr/xto­pher­glez)

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