Wild Cats in Texas: What They Are and Where They Live

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: November 11, 2022
© Volodymyr Burdiak/Shutterstock.com
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With a population of 29 million, Texas is among the largest states in the nation, both in population and area. With more than 260,000 square miles of terrain ranging from mountainous forests to extensive coastlines, the idiom “everything is bigger in Texas” is appropriate. More than 800 habitats exist in Texas, and many native and endemic wildlife can be found in this extremely diverse terrain. After all, it has the second-highest mammal diversity after California and is home to ten distinct ecoregions. Wolf packs and large wild cats are two of Texas’ fiercest predators. But what are the types of wild cats roaming around Texas? Below, we will explore the six species of wild cats thriving in Texas, what they look like, where they live, and other facts.

Are there Wild Cats in Texas?

There are six species of wild cats that have either lived or are currently living in Texas. Five of these species are native to the state, and three of these Texas cats are in danger of becoming extinct. Wildlife biologists and ecologists are well aware of the importance of predators in nature, including Texas cats. These top-down regulators, also known as keystone or flagship species, regulate populations of large herbivores and aid in preventing the ensuing destruction of the flora. Birds and amphibians have a habitat thanks to robust and ample vegetation, and the absence of carnivores may negatively impact these ecosystems.  Let’s explore the six types of wild cats in Texas.

6 Types of Wild Cats in Texas

1. Tiger

Tiger Teeth - Tiger with open mouth
The United States has the largest captive tiger population, with an estimated 5,000 big cats.

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Tigers are a common sight in Texas – but not in the wild. Most of the tiger populations in the state are relaxed on lawns and kept as pets. Tigers are among the most beautiful creatures to have ever existed alongside being the largest big cat in the world. The tiger is an apex predator that roams the planet alone during the day, hunting through various habitats. Even though they are gorgeous predators, tigers are almost universally kept as pets in Texas. The Austin American-Statesman reported in 2018 that Texas is thought to contain the second-largest tiger population in the world, right behind India. However, it is extremely difficult to determine the precise number of tigers in Texas. 

Estimates say Texas might be home to as many tigers as there are in the wild globally, which is thought to be 5,000. This southern American state is home to between 2,000 and 5,000 tigers.

With 8,000 tigers in captivity globally, the United States has the largest captive tiger population, with an estimated 5,000 big cats. Furthermore, tigers are astonishingly inexpensive pets in Texas, and the price of a captive-bred tiger can range from $900 to $2,000. Due to their low cost compared to many common pets and the high “wow factor” brought on by their exotic character, tiger ownership is at an all-time high.

2. Bobcat

bobcat
Bobcats have spotty or mottled fur that ranges in color from beige to brown to reddish.

©Victor Arita/Shutterstock.com

Although they share a family with the lynx and look similar, the bobcat and lynx are completely different species. Compared to the Canadian lynx, the bobcat is smaller, has smaller feet and ear tufts, and frequently has a darker fur coat. Bobcats have spotty or mottled fur that ranges in color from beige to brown to reddish, with the strength of the markings varying according to the cat and its environment. The bobcat has a white bottom, making its darker patches stand out more. Its short, black tail, which only gets as long as 0.4 inches, also has a white tip.

Bobcats are extremely adaptable cats and have demonstrated a remarkable capacity to withstand human settlement pressure over most of their habitat in Texas. The United States, southern Canada, and the northern part of Mexico are all home to bobcats, which got their name from their short tails. They are a common sight in Texas; swamps, deserts, and mountain ranges are among their preferred environments, but they enjoy stony canyons or outcrops.

3. Mountain Lion (Puma)

Mountain lion scream
In Texas, there are two mountain lion populations: one in west Texas and one in south Texas.

©Chris Alcock/Shutterstock.com

As they are known in the West, mountain lions are also referred to as cougars, pumas, and panthers. As apex predators, they help maintain a balance among deer populations and even lessen the frequency of deer-related car accidents. These predators resemble large, short-haired domestic cats in appearance. The length of the typical mountain lion varies from around 3’3″ to about 5’5″. However, some males can reach nine feet in length, while some females can reach seven feet. 

The mountain lion’s territory spans much of West Texas’ Trans-Pecos, the southern two-thirds of Central Texas Hill Country, a sizable section of South Texas’ brushlands, and a few spots in North Central Texas. The cat can be found anywhere in this area but prefers distant ranchlands with few people. 

In Texas, there are two mountain lion populations: one in west Texas and one in south Texas. Although trapping for predator control continues to be the main cause of mountain lion mortality, the west Texas population is thought to be stable, probably as a result of the immigration of cats from Mexico and New Mexico. Although they are more common in 14 western states, pumas can still be found in Florida in small quantities.

4. Ocelot

Types of wild cats - Ocelot
Ocelots are excellent swimmers, climbers, and runners, making them almost perfect predators.

©Saad315/Shutterstock.com

The most attractive Texas cat is the ocelot. It is distinctive because no two ocelot furs are the same. Adult males can grow up to 3 feet, 10 inches long, and adult females can grow to 3 feet. Ocelots have gorgeous, unusual markings on their fur, including dark rosettes, spots, and stripes, which give them the nickname “Painted Leopard.” Although they can grow up to be twice as big as domestic cats, ocelots are far smaller than leopards and jaguars, occasionally mistaken for them. Due to widespread hunting for their fur in the 20th century, the ocelot was almost driven to extinction. 

Although the ocelot can be found in all of South America’s tropical regions, it is most prevalent in the Amazon Basin’s deep jungles. However, they are fairly common and can be found everywhere from southern Texas to northern Argentina. The ocelot previously roamed the whole southern region of the state, with sporadic reports from north and central Texas. It is now confined to a few isolated patches of appropriate habitat in three or four counties of the Rio Grande Plains.

Do not be fooled by ocelots’ appearance in some states, such as Texas and Arkansas, as these cats are native to Central and South American rainforests. The ocelots appear to enjoy the tropical tree-lined canopy. They spend most of their time foraging and hunting at night and don’t mind traveling up to two miles to find food.

5. Jaguar

Largest Jaguar - Jaguar Header
The jaguar has a top speed of 50 mph.

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The jaguar is the biggest cat native to the American continent. It is renowned for its tremendous power and agility and is the third largest cat in the world after the tiger and the lion. The Native American phrase “yaguar,” which means “he who kills with one leap,” is actually where the name jaguar is thought to have originated. Despite their enormous strength, jaguars have been pursued throughout history, mostly for their breathtakingly gorgeous fur.

One of the fastest cats in the world, these elusive huge cats have a top speed of 50 mph, which is stunning. This enables them to catch up to quicker-moving prey like deer, capybara, and tapir.

The jaguar is a native of the Western Hemisphere and prefers to live in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. Although a rare male jaguar that moved from northern Mexico has been observed in southern Arizona and New Mexico, the jaguar’s territory stretches from northern Mexico to northern Argentina. In fact, jaguars are among the most dangerous animals you might come across in the Amazon.

It is doubtful that this cat still lives in Texas today, yet it is possible that a stray Mexican cat would occasionally stop by. The beginning of the century marked the last confirmed date for Texas records which states that the last jaguar population in the state was slain in the 1940s. Most authorities currently believe that jaguars are extinct in the state.

6. Jaguarundi

jaguarundi sitting on a branch in the wild
A jaguarundi cat’s black fur helps to shield it from predators in its native scrubland, swamp, or woodland habitat.

©slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com

“Otter cat” is a moniker given to the jaguarundi because its head resembles an otter’s head in shape. The tail of this cat is also similar to that of an otter. Moreover, a jaguarundi cat is a skilled swimmer, giving its moniker even more merit. The scrublands, marshes, and forests of Central and South America are home to this tiny carnivorous mammal. A jaguarundi cat’s black fur helps to shield it from predators in its native scrubland, swamp, or woodland habitat. In the wild, they can move at a pace of about 40 mph, which is fairly quick for a cat. Only a little bigger than a domestic cat, these little cats have an advantage over predators who won’t go near water since they can swim.

The sleek, low-slung jaguarundi, which is extremely uncommon in Texas, lives in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy counties in the brushy region of extreme southern Texas.


The Featured Image

Strongest cats - tiger
Strongest cats - tiger
© Volodymyr Burdiak/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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