Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Texas A&M-Kingsville doctoral student graduates as world's leading authority on jaguarundi

KINGSVILLE - August 09, 2013

Contact: Julie Navejar
julie.navejar@tamuk.edu or 361-593-2590

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The jaguarundi is an unusual and elusive wild cat. It is diurnal, or active during the day, is a solid color and is smaller than most wild cats. 

Arturo Caso is a humble man from Mexico City, Mexico who will receive his doctoral degree in wildlife science from Texas A&M University-Kingsville Saturday, Aug. 10. He will disagree, but even though he has not yet received that coveted doctoral hood, he is already considered the world’s leading authority on the jaguarundi. 

What makes Caso such an authority? While most researchers studying jaguarundi have captured two or three different animals, Caso has captured 20 different jaguarundis over the course of his research. The unpretentious researcher says it is simply a difference in sample size, but another world authority on wild cats has a different opinion.  

“Arturo is one of the top wild cat experts in the world,” said Dr. Mike Tewes, Regents Professor and research scientist for the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute (CKWRI) at Texas A&M-Kingsville. “He is the world authority on the jaguarundi and with his wife, Sasha, is the first to publish significant research on the margay—another wild cat. Sasha will receive her doctorate in wildlife science in December.” 

The jaguarundi is native in a region from South Texas to northern Argentina. The species is considered endangered in the United States and threatened in Mexico. It is a relatively small wild cat with the females averaging about eight pounds and the males about 15 pounds. 

“I remember as a kid growing up on the ranch in Tamaulipas…jaguarundi were considered pests. They killed chickens. I used to hunt then and I killed two,” Caso said. “I didn’t know they were important until I met Mike (Tewes).” 

Now, Caso has given up hunting and taken up work to help save the animals that he once considered a nuisance. 

Caso received his bachelor’s degree in animal science from the Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, Campus Querétaro. In Mexico, Caso had to prepare a thesis for his bachelor’s degree. “My bachelor’s thesis was related to birds and other wildlife, so I thought I would study birds of prey, since I used to fly hawks, do falconry. And then I met Mike and he worked with jaguarundis.” 

When he graduates and leaves his research associate position at Texas A&M-Kingsville, Caso will be taking a job in Mexico City working on wildlife conservation for the federal government. “I would like to continue to do field work if I can. My wife and I work together in the field and even our daughter, Arusha who is five years old, likes to join us in the field.”

Caso has spent many years doing his field work, mostly in northern Mexico, but in summer 2011, he had the opportunity to do what he called “the Olympics of field work” when he went to Tanzania in Africa to study the populations of lions and leopards in two different game reserves. “Once you have done field work in Africa, there isn’t any greater place to go,” he said. 

“My relationship with Arturo for the past 23 years has been both professional and personal,” Tewes said. “He has been an important part of my professional career and I have learned many things from him. It is extremely gratifying for me to see someone chase their passion for decades and achieve success.” 

Caso worked in Mexico after receiving his bachelor’s, but came to Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1991 to work on his master’s degree in range and wildlife management. At that time, he studied the home range and habitat of three carnivores-ocelot, jaguarundi and coatimundi in northeast Mexico. 

He continued to do field work after receiving his master’s and came back to Texas A&M-Kingsville in 2007 to start for on his doctorate on the coexistence of the ocelot and jaguarundi in northeastern Mexico. He also has been working as a research associate for the CKWRI. 

Caso is currently assisting the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as co-leader of the Ocelot Recovery Team and member of the Ocelot Translocation Team. He explained that although ocelots and jaguarundis live on both sides of borders, they cannot migrate from one country to another on their own because of obstacles like metropolitan areas and farms.

Arturo is not the only expert in the Caso family. His grandfather is buried in the Hall of Heroes in Mexico City. He was a famous archeologist who discovered the early Zapotec city of Monte Alba and helped decode the early Mayan language. Arturo’s father was Minister of Transportation in Mexico in the early1990s. 

“I don’t consider myself an expert,” Caso said. “I do have a better sample size, but there are still a lot of things to learn from this species.”

-TAMUK-


This page was last updated on: August 22, 2013