The Miniature African Lion of Yucatan
by Jon Soderberg Reyes
I don’t care much for domestic cats, and fail to understand what makes proclaimed professional domestic cat saviors tick. When your site denies a serious problem exists from feral cats and suggests the problem rather lies with a food wasteful society it is just silly despite the obvious connection.
It makes as much sense to lobby against the extirpation of yellowjacket hornets as their explosive increase in numbers directly correlates to the increase in fast food such as MacDonalds. While it might be a very positive social step to eliminate the junk food emporiums it simply aint going to happen.
But as an interested nature observer living on a ranchito in Yucatan I have seen a number of animals which I don’t have the resources to identify, the internet has been unproductive, and there is always a miniscule possibility that they have not been reported.
There had been indications of its existence before I personally saw the animal. Once when I had been at the transition between upland and freshwater savannah I saw areas full of fresh large pawprints. The campesino who was with me called them wolf tracks. A muchacho who lives near me said that he had once been deep in the monte near the savannah and from a distance had seen a group of what he called dogs of the monte. A friend who had been raised a campesino in the deep monte, from early childhood had a passion for learning about the history of the monte and its people from stories passed along from the grandfathers of his grandfathers’ generation. Although his early interest had matured into a focus on Mayan music and their instruments, he retained a vast knowledge of the stories which he had heard.
One blistering hot afternoon we were cooling off with ice cold beer and discussing a favorite topic of mine: the identity and venomous characteristics of an extremely aggressive tiny lizard. In the discussion Ricardo laughed and said that before I had another encounter I needed to develop an immunity to venom like that silly cat. Turned out he didn’t really know anything about the cat except that the old timers talked of a cat that hunted snakes, and when bitten didnt die as it had partial immunity, but would stagger and lurch as though drunk and the campesinos called it the silly drunken cat. (sounds like the partial immunity of a mongoose)
One morning I was at the central platform on the ranch before dawn, lying in wait for a dusk and dawn predator which I felt would attempt to attack my pet geese and ducks. As the first shadows of lightening occurred, I detected movement 90 deg to left of where I was oriented. I could not change body position without flagging my presence and turned my shoulders and neck to be able to see through the rifle scope. It was still too dark to see anything clearly except that there was a fairly large animal on top of the 2 meter high stone wall 50 yards away making jerky movements and what looked like a tree limb would flash across the field of view. As it brightened the view became comprehensible and wished I owned a video camera.
The strangest looking cat I have ever seen was on top of the wall attacking a huge Black Mussurana a good 12 ft long. The snake was on the ground trying to escape into crevices in the stone wall and when he did the cat would come down the face of the stone wall apparently hanging by the claws in his rear paws and with its front paws would batter and slash at the head of the snake.
Eventually the snake would be goaded into striking but the cat always managed to get back on top of the wall and batter the snake from the side. The early flashes I saw was the snake striking a good foot over the top of the wall. I wanted to keep watching but my neck was starting to develop a permanent crick. When I tried to slowly change my position to be more aligned with the action, the cat caught it immediately and raced down 200 yards of wall into the monte. The snake found his crevice and in a split second it was over.
My specimen looked like an African Lion that had been squished down and shortened. About 14 inches at the shoulder with a body about 30 inches long. Stocky build. Lion color, Lion mane around its neck. Long tail somewhat longer than the body, very short hair on the tail up to the end where there was a large tuft of long hair. But what makes this animal really unforgettable are the huge stumpy legs and paws. They look like they belong on an adult Puma.
Over the years I have gotten to know well a number of deer hunters who often go into the savannah. The story is always the same, they see a lot of tracks, then every now and then they catch a fleeting glimpse of one in the open karst fields bordering the savannah. Except one man I know managed to drive his old pick up truck to the edge of the savannah over a century old ox-cart access. He says, and I believe him, that a chac mool a good 24 inches at the shoulder passed within 10 feet in front of him when he was in the thickets approaching the savannah.
The archeologists relate chac mool with the jaguar, as mool means thunderous paw. The locals call this cat chac mool and the jaguar a tigre. Jaguarundi are e mool or ek mool. With continental drift it is not inconceivable that it is of proto lion African origin. Am I totally embarrassing myself as being ignorant? Anyone have feedback?
Jon Soderberg Reyes