Pygmy raccoon (Procyon pygmaeus)

Also known as: Cozumel Island raccoon, Cozumel raccoon, Cozumel raccoon bear, dwarf raccoon
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
FamilyProcyonidae
GenusProcyon (1)
SizeHead-body length: 35.7 - 43.7 cm (2)
Tail length: 22 - 25 cm (2)
Weightc. 3 - 4 kg (3) (4)

The pygmy raccoon is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

As its name suggests, the pygmy raccoon (Procyon pygmaeus) is the smallest of the raccoon species (3) (4). Found only on Cozumel Island, off the coast of Mexico (1), it is one of the most endangered carnivores in the world (5) (6).

The pygmy raccoon resembles the northern raccoon (Procyon lotor) in appearance, but is much smaller and has a slimmer muzzle and narrower tail (2) (3). It also has slightly paler fur (4). Like all raccoons, the pygmy raccoon has a fox-like face, a ringed tail, and a distinctive dark mask across the eyes (2) (4) (7), which tends to become more brownish and grey in the middle (3). The fur is short, bristly, and grizzled greyish-brown, with more buffy underparts (2) (3). Male raccoons tend to be larger than females (4) (7), and have significantly longer canine teeth (8).

Some scientists have considered the pygmy raccoon and other island raccoons to belong to the same species as the northern raccoon. However, genetic analysis, together with morphological differences, suggests that the pygmy raccoon is a distinct species (1) (9).

Also known as the Cozumel Island raccoon, the pygmy raccoon is found only on Cozumel Island, off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico (1) (2) (3) (4) (7). Its main populations are restricted to coastal areas in the northern half of the island (5).

The pygmy raccoon usually inhabits mangrove swamps and other coastal vegetation in sandy areas. However, it has also been recorded in forest and in agricultural areas, and is sometimes found close to human settlements and roads (1) (2) (5) (8).

The pygmy raccoon is mainly active at night (2) (4) (7) and is usually solitary, although it may sometimes form family groups (1). Over half of the diet of the pygmy raccoon consists of crabs, although it also takes a range of fruits, insects and other small prey (2) (5) (8) (10). Like other raccoons, it is likely to have a well-developed sense of touch, using its dextrous hands to manipulate food. Raccoons are also skilled climbers and swimmers (4) (7).

Little information is available on the breeding behaviour of the pygmy raccoon, although lactating females have been recorded between May and July (2). Other raccoons build dens in hollow trees, rocks crevices, tree stumps, buildings, or in the burrow of another animal (4) (7). Female raccoons usually give birth to up to 7 young, after a gestation period of around 60 to 73 days (7). Although the young may reach sexual maturity within the first year of life, most do not breed until the following year (4) (7).

The total population of the pygmy raccoon is thought to number fewer than 250 mature individuals, which are divided into small, isolated subpopulations (1) (5) (8) (11). The pygmy raccoon is also restricted to just one island, where it appears to be limited to a few main coastal areas, despite apparently suitable habitat elsewhere (5) (8) (11). The remaining population has only limited genetic variability (8) (9).

One of the main threats to the pygmy raccoon is introduced species. Introduced carnivores such as domestic dogs and cats not only threaten the pygmy raccoon directly through predation and competition (1) (5) (11) (12), but also transmit diseases and parasites, including mange, rabies, canine distemper and the parasite Toxoplasma gondii (1) (2) (5) (6) (12). The boa constrictor (Boa constrictor), another potential predator, has also been introduced to Cozumel and is now well established there (13). The introduction of northern raccoons as pets brings further threats of disease transmission and potential hybridisation with the pygmy raccoon (1) (5) (8) (12).

The pygmy raccoon is also under threat from rapid tourist development on Cozumel. Although the island is still relatively well preserved, the small area of mangrove habitat preferred by the pygmy raccoon coincides with the coastal areas where most tourist development is taking place (1) (3) (5) (8) (12). Road building is also further fragmenting the pygmy raccoon’s habitat, as well as increasing the threat of road kill and aiding in the dispersal of introduced species (1) (5).

Hurricanes pose a significant threat to the pygmy raccoon, particularly in light of its already limited range and tiny population (1) (5) (8) (11) (12). The threat from hurricanes is only likely to increase in future, as extreme weather events are predicted to increase in frequency and severity due to climate change (1). Further threats to the pygmy raccoon include the overexploitation of freshwater on the island and disturbance from the expanding human population (5) (12). This species may also be hunted or collected as a pet, although this is not thought to be a major threat at present (1) (5) (12).

The pygmy raccoon is listed as Endangered on the Mexico list of threatened species (14). However, it is not legally protected, and there are no protected areas on Cozumel (3) (15).

Conservation measures recommended for this rare raccoon include establishing protected areas on Cozumel, setting up a captive breeding programme, controlling introduced species, and preventing further introductions of mainland carnivores (1) (5) (8) (12) (15). The mangrove habitats preferred by this species need particularly urgent protection (8) (11). Public awareness programmes and continued research and monitoring will also be important in promoting the conservation of Cozumel’s endemic species (1) (5) (12).

Find out more about conservation on Cozumel Island:

More information on the conservation of raccoons and other carnivores:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Reid, F.A. (2009) A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico. Second Edition. Oxford University Press, New York.
  3. Zeveloff, S.I. (2002) Raccoons: A Natural History. UBC Press, Vancouver and Toronto.
  4. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Cuarón, A.D. et al. (2009) Conservation of the endemic dwarf carnivores of Cozumel Island, Mexico. Small Carnivore Conservation, 41: 15-21.
  6. McFadden, K.W., Wade, S.E., Dubovi, E.J. and Gompper, M.E. (2005) A serological and fecal parasitologic survey of the Critically Endangered pygmy raccoon (Procyon pygmaeus). Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 41(3): 615-617.
  7. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  8. McFadden, K.W. (2004) The Ecology, Evolution and Natural History of the Endangered Carnivores of Cozumel Island, Mexico. Ph.D. Thesis, Columbia University. Available at:
    http://www.carnivoreconservation.org/files/thesis/mcfaden_2004_phd.pdf
  9. McFadden, K.W., Gompper, M.E., Valenzuela, D.G. and Morales, J.C. (2008) Evolutionary history of the critically endangered Cozumel dwarf carnivores inferred from mitochondrial DNA analyses. Journal of Zoology, 276: 176-186.
  10. McFadden, K.W., Sambrotto, R.N., Medellín, R.A. and Gompper, M.E. (2006) Feeding habits of endangered pygmy raccoons (Procyon pygmaeus) based on stable isotope and fecal analyses. Journal of Mammalogy, 87(3): 501-509.
  11. McFadden, K.W., García-Vasco, D., Cuarón, A.D., Valenzuela-Galván, D., Medellín, R.A. and Gompper, M.E. (2010) Vulnerable island carnivores: the endangered endemic dwarf procyonids from Cozumel Island. Biodiversity and Conservation, 19: 491-502.
  12. Cuarón, A.D., Martínez-Morales, M.A., McFadden, K.W., Valenzuela, D. and Gompper, M.E. (2004) The status of dwarf carnivores on Cozumel Island, Mexico. Biodiversity and Conservation, 13: 317-331.
  13. Martínez-Morales, M.A. and Cuarón, A.D. (1999) Boa constrictor, an introduced predator threatening the endemic fauna on Cozumel Island, Mexico. Biodiversity and Conservation, 8: 957-963.
  14. Norma Oficial Mexicana NOM-059-ECOL-2001 (May, 2011)
    http://www.semarnat.gob.mx/leyesynormas/Normas%20Oficiales%20Mexicanas%20vigentes/NOM-ECOL-059-2001.pdf
  15. Glatston, A.R. (1994) The Red Panda, Olingos, Coatis, Raccoons, and their Relatives. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan for Procyonids and Ailurids. IUCN/SSC Mustelid, Viverrid, and Procyonid Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. Available at:
    http://carnivoractionplans1.free.fr/procyonids_en.pdf