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Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus Jacobita)

The Andean Mountain Cat is the most endangered small wild cat of America. The body length ranges from 57 to 64 centimetres (22 to 25 inch), the tail length is 41 to 48 cm (16 to 19 inch), the shoulder height is about 36 cm (14 in) and the body weight is 5.5 kilograms (12 lb).

It is one of only two felids for which no subspecies have been classically described. They cannot live in captivity. All Andean mountain cats died as soon as they were captivated. Fewer than 2500 individuals are thought to exist. This cat is one of about two dozen small wild cat species found around the world. Unlike their larger cousins, such as lions and tigers, with millions of dollars dedicated to conservation efforts, small wild cats like the Andean Mountain Cat have not found a place in the hearts of the public, and conservation efforts exist on budgets in the thousands.

The Andean Mountain Cat’s preferred high-elevation montane habitat is fragmented by deep valleys, and its distribution is likely to be further localized by the patchy nature of colonies of its preferred prey, mountain viscachas. The total effective population size could be below 2,500 mature individuals, with a declining trend due to loss of prey base and habitat, as well as to persecution and hunting for traditional ceremonial purposes, and no subpopulation having an effective population size larger than 250 mature individuals.

While the Andean Mountain Cat’s main prey likely is the mountain viscacha, it is also probable that mountain chinchillas were previously important prey of the Andean Mountain Cat, before their populations were drastically reduced due to hunting for the fur trade. Since it lives only in the high mountains, human-inhabited valleys act as barriers, fragmenting the population, meaning that even low levels of poaching could be devastating. It is often killed in Chile and Bolivia because of local superstition.

Sanderson is still heavily involved with the Andean Cat. With coworkers Constanza Napolitano, Lilian Villalba, and Eliseo Delgado and many others in the Andean Cat Alliance, the Small Cat Conservation Alliance (SCCA) has forged conservation agreements with Fundación Biodiversitas, a Chilean non-profit organization, and CONAF, the government agency responsible for managing national parks and production forests. CONAF has agreed to allow the SCCA to renovate a building for the Andean Cat Conservation and Monitoring Center on their already functioning compound at San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.

Villalba of the Andean Cat Alliance conducted a major research program, including radio-telemetry studies, from 2001 to 2006 in the Khastor region of southern Bolivia. Exclusively for Wild Cats Magazine she and her colleagues wrote THIS ARTICLE.

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Cat of the month

Flat-headed cat (Prionailurus Planiceps)

The Flat-headed cat is a small cat from forested areas, closely related to the Fishing cat and thanking his name to the flat-shaped head. The skull is fairly long, while the skull roof, as suggested by both its common and scientific name, is rather flat. It is considered endangered by IUCN due to habitat loss and pollution.

Flatheaded cat

Nick Garbutt/SuperStock/Corbis / Click for larger version

This species lives mainly near water in Thailand, Malaysia (both East and West), Brunei and Indonesia. The cat is hardly seen in the wild, so rarely is known about its situation there, but also very rare in captivity with only two individuals, both in Malaysian zoos, recorded by ISIS in early 2008. Like some other small cats it was originally placed in the genus Felis, but is now considered one of the five species in Prionailurus.

The thick fur of a Flat-headed cat is generally dark reddish-brown tinged grey, with a more reddish head and whitish underparts. Except for the relatively faint facial streaks it is rather unpatterned. It has relatively long premolars and this cat is one of the few cats that is unable to retract its claws (others being the Cheetah, fishing cat and the Iriomote cat) like dogs. The legs are fairly short and the ears are short and round. The inter-digital webs on its paws help the cat gain better traction in muddy environments and water, and are even more pronounced on this cat than those on the paws of the closely related Fishing Cat. Head-body length is 41-50 cm, short tail of 13-15 cm and the cat weights about 1.5-2.5 kg.

Like we said little is known about its wild behaviour, but captive individuals lived for 14+ years. Also a gestation period of about 56 days and a litter size of 1-2 kittens have been reported in captivity. Like most of the cats also the Flat-headed cat is considered to be a nocturnal animal, but observations of captives suggests it is crepuscular. Differences in the situations between wild and captivity are sometimes causing problems.

The Flat-headed Cat is considered endangered by IUCN and listed on appendix 1 by CITES. The total population is believed to be less than 10,000 adults, with no single sub-population containing more than 1,000 adults, while habitat loss and water pollution are serious threats. The sightings from oil palm plantations suggests it is less specialized than generally believed. The Flat-headed Cat is fully protected throughout its natural range, except in Brunei, where this species lacks legal protection. Sightings are very rare.

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