From the archives: This story was last updated in January 2020.
For Argentinian college student Florencia Lobo, a fishing trip to the Northwest Province of Tucuman ended up being a lot more than a relaxing day in nature. After finding two kittens next to a dead animal, she brought the strays back home with her and reared them as her own.
Only one of them, named Tito, survived, but when she took him to the vet for a slightly injured leg, the diagnosis wasn’t what she was expecting. “The veterinarian did not even know what it was,” she told regional newspaper El Tucumano. “He suspected it was not a normal cat.” Eventually, the baffled vet contacted the staff at Horco Molle Experimental Animal Reserve, who were able to positively identify the little kitten as a kind of puma, known as jaguarundi.
When Florencia and her brother found the kittens, they simply assumed that they had somehow gotten separated from their mother. While they immediately recognized the babies as “cat”-like, they weren’t able to identify the deceased mother as such, perhaps because when fully grown, puma jaguarundis (Herpailurus yagouaroundi) bear a striking resemblance to otters, hence their common name “otter cats.”
Seeing that the kittens, one male and one female, were hungry and in desperate need of attention, Florencia took them home. She called the girl Dani and the boy Tito. Despite all of Florencia’s love and attention, Dani was too weak to survive and passed away a week later. Tito, however, thrived in his new home. “He would always be waiting for me when I came home from school,” she told El Tucumano.
Florencia Lobo thought she was adopting a kitten, but later found out it was a puma jaguarundi pic.twitter.com/ze0se7d99c
— Reuters (@Reuters) November 21, 2019
After Florencia raised him for more than two months, she and the puma kitten became extremely attached. “He followed me everywhere […] when I whistled like a little bird he always came,” she explained. “He likes to play, bite and run pretty fast. He liked to get on the table and jump from there, he thought it was normal.” Florencia never noticed anything very strange about the young jaguarundi except for the fact that he was even wilder than the average kitten.
It seems likely that during one of the acrobatic leaps around Florencia’s house, Tito managed to injure his leg, which precipitated her trip to the vet—where she learned that Tito was certainly not a house cat. Eventually, Florencia took the injured feline to the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, where she studies Social Work, where one of her fellow students suggested calling Argentinian Animal Rescue Foundation (FARA). She would have to say goodbye to Tito.
For Florencia, it was really difficult to say goodbye to the young puma jaguarundi that had become such an important part of her life. “If you raise [an animal] and love it, you feel like it is yours and it causes you pain that they take it away,” she explained, adding, “deep down I know that it is good that they take him and return him to nature. It seems bad to me that people take possession of animals like that or sell them no matter what happens to them.”
As for Pedro Rodriguez Salazar, the president of FARA, he thanked Florencia for being willing to do the right thing and give Tito to wildlife professionals. “This is a hunting animal and a bit aggressive, [after] being with humans from a small age, in the reserve they will have to adapt his environment to be as it was before,” he shared.
Noting that Tito was in “good spirits and looked playful,” he told El Tucumano that many people in the country who come across wild animals, unfortunately, try to keep them as pets.
When Tito is 2 years old, he will be fully grown and ready to return to his natural habitat by the river. Puma jaguarundis don’t just resemble otters; they also have a preternatural ability to swim and catch fish—one of the main food sources in their diet.
Florencia couldn’t help but shed some tears as she said goodbye to her beloved Tito. “I feel that he will be sad without me,” she said. “I worry that he will be released and that he does not know how to do his usual things because he is already domesticated.” However, she hopes he will be able to recover his wild instincts with help from the animal reserve.