Mexican bobcat – subspecies or not?

The Mexican bobcat is still considered a subspecies of the bobcat but perhaps a better description is “potential subspecies” because it is by no means certain that it is different or sufficiently different to the bobcat that is found in the United States and Canada. Members of one subspecies should differ morphologically or by different DNA sequences from members of other subspecies of the species. And this is not necessarily the case.

The argument below on this page indicates to me that this cat is probably not a subspecies and, on that basis, when we talk about the Mexican bobcat, we are in fact talking about the bobcat living in Mexico, a more dry and arid landscape but the bobcat is able to adapt to a wide range of habitats. Kevin Hansen in his book, Bobcat, says, Bobcat, Master of Survival. Its adaptability is, no doubt, one factor in its survival.

Mexican bobcat
Mexican bobcat. Credit as per image.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

The above is a camera trap photo by J. N. Stuart. The creative commons license to reproduce it does not allow for improvements to it, which I have carried out. Sorry. I hope you accept that this is an improvement and it is a great picture (except for the image quality) – very real and alive and wild. Secondly, it was taken in New Mexico and not Mexico but as the ranges of the bobcats in Mexico and New Mexico overlap this cat is almost certainly the same as the one found in Mexico. It was taken at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (see location below).

Bosque del Apache NWR marked by red pin

Appearance – ecology and threats

The Wikipedia authors claim that the Mexican Bobcat is a subspecies. It is the smallest of the bobcats growing to about twice the size of a domestic cat. They range in size between 9-30 pounds. As to habitat, they are found throughout Mexico but primarily in Baja, Western Mexico and southward from the Sonoran Desert. They eat rodents, birds, deer, white-nosed coatis, colour peccaries and jackrabbits. All small prey animals. The usual threat to their survival is loss of habitat to which you can include illegal trapping and shooting together with the militarisation of the US-Mexico border. The species is on the US endangered species list and has been since 1976.

Mexican Bobcat – a subspecies?

It is listed as a subspecies (one of 12) by Hall 1981 and Anderson 1987 (Bobcat by Kevin Hansen). And, also, by J.A. Allen allowing this cat to be given the scientific name: Lynx rufus escuinipae. Its range is from central Mexico, with a northern extension along the west coast to southern Sonora.

However, Mr Lawrence G. Kline submitted a petition that the Mexican bobcat be delisted from the list of endangered species under the ESA (Endangered Species Act). In support of his petition, he said that there were no taxonomic differences between the bobcat populations of the United States and Mexico and that the Mexican bobcat population does not represent a “discrete population separate from the U.S. bobcat population”. He was arguing on behalf of trappers so he would say this as it supported his argument that to kill the bobcat in Mexico was in fact killing the wide-ranging bobcat and there was no argument that supported the need to protect the Mexican bobcat as was the case at the time. However, it does raise the question as to whether this bobcat is a subspecies.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species does not list 12 subspecies of bobcat and it says this in relation to conservation efforts concerning the bobcat:

The Mexican subspecies L. rufus escuinapae was listed on CITES Appendix I until 1992, when it was down listed to Appendix II on the grounds that it is not a valid taxa (Govt of US 2007)

This states in simple language that the Mexican bobcat was considered the same as the bobcat that inhabits the United States. The people who run CITES would seem to agree that this bobcat is not a subspecies as they would not have downgraded it if it was (although no doubt this judgment was coloured by politics – the desire to start killing it again for its skin). This is because in downgrading it they opened the door to trade in pelts, which would seem acceptable to them if and only if it was not a subspecies.

Modern methods used to enable wildcats to be distinguishing into species and subspecies incorporate DNA testing. In the past (and currently) methods included: appearance, behaviour, vocalisations etc. The classification of the Mexican bobcat as a subspecies originates from a time when DNA analysis was not used – in the 1980s and much earlier.

The Wikipedia author lists this bobcat as a subspecies but does say:

The subspecies division has been challenged, given a lack of clear geographic breaks in the Bobcat range and the minor differences between subspecies

The author refers to a CITES re-evaluation of this cat’s status. In that assessment it was stated that:

The subspecies was described from two immature male specimens on the basis of color and cranial differences (Allen 1903)

In other words the basis for the argument that this cat is a subspecies is insubstantial. In addition the geographic range of the Mexican bobcat overlaps with the bobcats in the southern United States and the skulls are similar to those of the Californian and Texan bobcat.

Conclusion: The Mexican bobcat having been classified as a separate subspecies early on (1903) based on rather flimsy information is being reclassified using modern DNA analysis. The position is still unclear but it would seem that its classification as a subspecies is in doubt.

{note: Copyright issues: I have quoted short extracts verbatim on occasions. This is done for reasons of accuracy and fair use is pleaded on the grounds that it is educational and the quotes are about facts and not original works}

Mexican habitat

On the basis that this cat is not a subspecies the topic to discuss is the Mexican habitat. (see Picture of a Bobcat for a discussion on the appearance of the bobcat).

In Mexico, bobcats inhabit dry scrub, mixed forests of pine and oak, coniferous forests, and tropical deciduous forests. The following picture is of Mexican forest that is just outside the southernmost range of the bobcat (as assessed) but gives a nice idea of what bobcat territory in Mexico might look like:

Mexican habitat for Mexican bobcat
Mexican habitat for Mexican bobcat. Credit: see below.

by magnusvk

Conservation and Threats

The fine book on wildcats, Wild Cats Of The World (published 2002) says that there is no information on the status of bobcats in Mexico. That begs a ton of questions. Why was the CITES classification downgraded, for one? We cannot make any assessment on conservation without proper information.

Loss of habitat is the usual reason for threats and that is the case for the Mexican bobcat. The population of all bobcats is, however, considered to be stable (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™).

The Mexican bobcat is treated no differently than the bobcat generally under CITES and is listed under Appendix II. The bobcat is:

  • “harvested” (a euphemism for killed for commercial reasons) legally in 38 US states and in 7 Canadian states/territories.
  • sport hunted in Mexico (legally)

See Bobcat population rise (new window) – this concerns the bobcat generally.

Conservation is probably sparse as it is not considered to be threatened.

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