Pygmy Raccoon Cozumel’s Endemic and Cute Species
The critically endangered mammal is endemic to the Caribbean island, and struggling to avoid extinction
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)