Artist's Rendering and Photograph
|Habitat||Northwestern Mountains of Mexico|
The Onza has been recorded since the Spanish conquistadors invaded Aztec Mexico (1519). They found some in the zoo of Emperor Montezuma (1466-1520) under the Aztec name of "cutlamiztli." The Onza is claimed to be a feline species similar to a cougar. It is a cryptid – a creature whose existence has been claimed but not proved. The term has also been used to refer to the jaguarundi, an existing species related to the Cougar.
In 1938, and again in 1986, cougar-like animals shot in Sinaloa were identified as onzas. The only viable specimen to have been examined was contributed by a rancher named Andres Murillo. In January 1986, he shot what he thought was a jaguar attacking him. It proved not to be a jaguar, and he brought it to Vega, who owned a nearby ranch. It was a female weighing 60 lb (27 kg). The body excluding the tail was 45 inches (1.1 m) long, and the tail was 23 inches (58 cm). The cat had the appearance of a cougar with a very long, thin body and long, thin dog-like legs. Deer had been found in its stomach, indicating that it had eaten recently. Vega told Murillo that the specimen greatly resembled the onza his father had shot in the 1970s, the skull of which he still had.
Physical Differences with Cougars
These animals were much like cougars but had lighter frames with longer, striped legs, longer ears, and a longer tail. Researchers from Texas Tech University examined a frozen onza corpse in the 1990s and concluded that it was most likely a genetic variant of the cougar, but not a distinct species. DNA testing has shown that specimen to be a puma, with no significant difference between it and any other puma.
Miracinonyx the American Cheetah
Some cryptozoologist propose that the Onza are American cheetahs (Miracinonyx), big cats that were more closely related to pumas than to modern cheetahs. The American Cheetah went extinct about 10,000 years ago, shortly after the last Ice Age, possibly as a result of human encroachment on its territory.
A legend less well known among cryptozoologists states that there are two species of Miracinonyx living in Mexico, one usually called "onza" and the other called by other local names.