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The Onza is a species of wild cat reputed to exist in Mesoamerica at the time of the Spanish conquistadors. The Aztecs named this animal cuitlamiztli in Nahuatl. The Spanish name “onza” derives from the Latin lynx, lyncis.

The Spaniards reported that onzas were on display at Montezuma’s zoo alongside tigres (tigers) and leones (lions). When the Spanish settled in what is the modern-day state of Sinaloa, they frequently encountered the onza, jaguar, and cougar. Missionaries there described the onza as much fiercer than a puma and reported that the animal attacked people more frequently. The last well-known records of the animal occur in 1757.

In 1938 and again in 1986, animals in Sinaloa were shot and identified as onzas. Only one viable specimen has been taken: A rancher named Andres Murillo in January 1986 saw what he thought was a jaguar attacking him while deer hunting, so he shot it. It turned out not to be a jaguar, and he brought it to Vega, who owned a nearby ranch. He told Murillo that the specimen he had greatly resembled the onza his father had shot in the 1970s, the skull of which he still had. The specimen was a female that weighed 60 lbs. (27 kg). The body, not including the tail, was 45 inches (113 cm) long, and the tail added another 23 inches (73 cm). The cat had the appearance of a cougar with a very long, thin body and long, thin dog-like legs. It had eaten recently because deer had been found in its stomach. These animals were much like cougars but had lighter frames, longer legs, and longer ears and were spotted. Molecular genetic testing of the 1986 corpse found “characteristics indistinguishable from those of western North American pumas”, although the researchers did not rule out the possibility of the onza as a subspecies.

After examination of a frozen onza corpse in the 1990s, Texas Tech University researchers concluded that the onza is most likely a genetic variant of puma, but not a distinct cat species.

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