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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

Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)

The ocelot is a wild cat, of the group small cats, distributed over South and Central America and Mexico. The ocelot’s appearance is similar to the domestic cat, though its fur resembles that of a Jaguar or a clouded leopard and was once regarded as particularly valuable. As a result, hundreds of thousands of ocelots have been killed for their fur. The feline was clasified a “vulnerable” endangered species from 1972 until 1996, but is now rated “least concern” by the 2008 IUCN Red List. The ocelot is mostly nocturnal and very territorial like all cats. It will fight fiercely, sometimes to the death, in territorial disputes. In addition, the ocelot marks its territory with urine. Like most felines, it is solitary, usually meeting only to mate. However, during the day it rests in trees or other dense foliage, and will occasionally share its spot with another ocelot of the same sex. When mating, the female will find a den in a cave in a rocky bluff, a hollow tree, or a dense (preferably thorny) thicket. The gestation period is estimated to be 70 days. Generally the female will have 2-3 kittens, born in the autumn with their eyes closed and a thin covering of hair.

ocelot1-13Like many wild cats, it is occasionally kept as a pet. The actors’ couple Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones keep an ocelot as a pet. Also musician Gram Parsons kept an ocelot as a pet in the back yard swimming pool area of his family’s Winter Haven in Florida.

The ocelot is a great tree-climber. They hunt over a range of 18 km2, taking mostly small mammals, like deer, various rodents, reptiles and amphibians (lizards, turtles and frogs), crab, birds and fish. Almost all of the prey that the ocelot hunts is far smaller than itself. Studies suggest that it follows and finds prey via odor trails, but the ocelot also has very good vision, including night vision. The white rings around the ocelot’s eyes help to reflect extra light into the eye at night. They climb out of a tree head down first. Ocelots are also very fond of water and don’t mind swimming.

ocelot4The ocelot once inhabited the chaparral thickets of the Gulf Coast of south and eastern Texas, and was found in Arizona. In the United States, it now ranges only in several small areas of dense thicket in South Texas. The ocelot’s continued presence in the U.S. is questionable, as a result largely of the introduction of dogs, being shot by ranchers, the loss of habitat, and the introduction of highways. Young male ocelots are frequently killed by cars during their search for a territory.

ocelot2The musical band Phish has a song titled “Ocelot” dedicated to this wonderful cat, with lyrics describing perceived ocelot behavior.