Onza

Pumalike big CAT of Mexico.

Etymology: Spanish, "ounce," derived from the Vulgar Latin luncea ("lynx"). In Spain, onza refers to the Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). In Venezuela and Colombia, it refers to the Jaguarundi (Herpailurus yaguarondi). In Guatemala, the word onsa is used for the Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), while in Brazil, the Portuguese word onça is used for the Jaguar (Pan-thera onca).

Physical description: Very similar to a puma but thinner. Weight, 60-70 pounds. Tawny-colored fur, with gray on the legs and shoulders. Also said to have faint stripes on the shoulders and a long, dark stripe down the back. Ears longer than a puma's. Spots or stripes on the inside of the legs. Longer legs than a puma's.

Behavior: More aggressive than the puma. Likes to kill hunting dogs.

Tracks: Like puma tracks but longer and less round. Claw marks visible.

Habitat: Mountains with dense vegetation.

Distribution: The Sierra Madre Occidental from southern Sonora to Nayarit States, Mexico.

Significant sightings: A female Onza was shot in March 1938 by Joseph H. Shirk, who was on a hunting trip east of San Ignacio, Sinaloa State, with Clell and Dale Lee as guides; however, photos taken after the kill seem to show an ordinary puma.

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Andres Rodriguez Murillo and Ricardo Zamora killed a female Onza near San Ignacio on January 1, 1986. J. Richard Greenwell and Troy L. Best examined the animal in February and preserved the skull, leg bones, and tissue samples for further analysis. Electrophoresis and mitochondrial DNA testing on the tissue samples have shown them to be identical to North American puma samples. Possible explanations:

(1) The Onza is now seen as a local variation of the common Puma (Puma concolor), which is found throughout Mexico, perhaps adapted to a specific environment. Tissue samples from a specimen obtained in 1986 proved to be indistinguishable from those of a puma.

(2) Many Mexican hunters believe it is a jaguar x puma hybrid, although the animal has few jaguarlike characteristics. Also, there is no evidence that such hybrids occur.

(3) A new species closely related to the puma, though this is now considered unlikely.

(4) A subspecies of puma distinct from the local Sierra Madre puma (P. c. azteca). However, subspecies cannot, by definition, coexist in the same region.

(5) Helmut Hemmer thought the Onza might be an American cheetah (Miracinonyx trumani), a fossil felid that lived in the Late Pleistocene, 20,000-10,000 years ago.

(6) A female puma suffering from vitamin deficiency and tuberculosis following the birth of a litter, suggested by Clinton Keeling. However, a male specimen that showed classic Onza features was killed in Sinaloa State on April 15, 1995, by Raul Jiminez Dominguez.

Sources: Robert E. Marshall, The Onza: The Story ofthe Search for the Mysterious Cat ofthe Mexican Highlands (New York: Exposition, 1961); "Onza Specimen Obtained: Identity Being Studied," ISC Newsletter 5, no. 1 (Spring 1986): 1-6; Neil Carmony, Onza! The Hunt for a Legendary Cat (Silver City, N. Mex.: High-Lonesome Books, 1995); Peter A. Dratch, Wendy Roslund, Janice S. Martenson, Melanie Culver, and Stephen J. O'Brien,

"Molecular Genetic Identification of a Mexican Onza Specimen as a Puma (Puma Concolor)," Cryptozoology 12 (1996): 42-49.

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