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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

Chilean Cat (Leopardus Guigna)

The Chilean cat or Kodkod is the smallest wild cat of South America and rival the Black Footed Cat (Africa) and the Rusty Spotted Cat (Asia) as the smalles felins in the world. They are quite similar in appearance to Geoffroy’s Cat (Oncifelis Geoffoyi) with which they share their habitat, but they are smaller and do have a smaller face and thicker tail. Local people call them the Guigna, but there is no use of the name Kodkod though in Chile. It is thought to be an European reference.

chilean cat
The basic color of the coat varies from light grey and grey brown to buff or dusky brown, marked with small, round black spots. Black on neck and crown with whitish underparts. The head is small with indistinct lines above the eyes and on the cheeks, and a white area around the eyes. The ears are relatively large and rounded, with blackish backsides marked with a white central spot. Their legs are short, and the foot pads fairly large with black soles. The tail is short, only about one third of the head-body length, and marked with black rings, and a black tip. Like the Andean mountain cat (Oreailurus jacobita), the tail of the Chilean cat is very bushy, growing wider towards the tip. Melanistic individuals are known to occur.
There appear to be two distinctive forms. The race which occurs in central Chile is plain in coloration with no spots on their feet, and are larger than the race living in the southern part of their range. The southern animals are also more brightly colored and have spots on their feet.

chilean cat 2

Found only in southwestern Argentina and central and southern Chile, these cats are strongly associated with moist temperate mixed forests of the Andean and Coastal ranges. They range up to the treeline at 1,900 to 2,500 metres. They are not tolerant of altered habitats, and are never found in cleared forests. Some cover, such as trees or shrub areas is required for these little cats to survive.
Chilean cats are only nocturnal in the presence of humans, and are active day and night if undisturbed. They usually live on the ground, although they have well developed climbing abilities, sheltering in the trees during the day and when pursued. Prey items are small mammals such as mice and rats, birds, insects and reptiles. One field study in the Kodkod’s preferred forest type found a high diversity of mouse sized rodents, but few larger mammals. In this heavily fragmented landscape, males must roam further and further to locate females, which brings them into contact with humans. The first radio telemetry study on these cats found that females have small, localized territories and do not seem to range as far as the males. Females on Chiloe are averaging 1.7 kg, and the males 2.4 kg.

Researchers have found that the local people believed this little cat was a vampire, sucking the blood of its prey. This error resulted from their finding two puncture marks on the neck of domestic poultry, which were actually the punctures from the cats’ canine teeth. By talking to the schools and local farmers, the researchers have done much to dispel this myth.
Little is known of the Kodkod’s reproductive behavior. Gestation is thought to be 72 – 78 days, and one to three kittens are born. One female reached sexual maturity at 24 months. They have been known to live over 11 years in captivity but they have not been studied under captive conditions either. While there are currently no captive Kodkods in zoos, there is one private project in Chile attempting to breed these small felines, and has several cats at their facility.
The population status in the wild is also unknown, but their very restricted geographical range probably means that there are a limited number of individuals. This makes Kodkods quite vulnerable to destruction of their forest habitat, something that is happening at far too rapid a pace all over South America. While their small size has saved them from being sought extensively for the fur trade, they are often caught in traps set out for foxes, and persecuted as poultry killers.
They are nationally protected in both range countries, and there are several protected areas within their range in Argentina. CITES places them on Appendix II. Like other rare and elusive mammals, Kodkods may slip away entirely before we learn anything about their ecology and behaviour.