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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Essentially nothing is known about the biology and behaviour of the Andean cat (2) (2). Its range is so remote and inhospitable it has proved extremely difficult to survey the area and there are no Andean cats known to be in captivity (2). Knowledge is built up from rare sightings of the animal, physiological studies of stuffed specimens and more recently genetic analysis of faeces (2) (6). The Andean cat's range does appear to coincide with the distribution of the mountain chinchillas (Chinchilla lanigera) and viscachas (Lagidium spp.), and it has been observed hunting these species (2). Both prey species escape from predators by bounding off rock faces and making unpredictable changes in direction. The Andean cat's long tail probably aids in balance when chasing these rodents (2). The Andean cat's diet may or may not include other species, such as birds, reptiles and other small rodents, but there is no information on this (2). This small cat has an acute sense of hearing, which may assist in hunting, due to its well developed ear drums (5). This adaptation is typical of animals that inhabit arid environments with little cover for protection, such as the mountain chinchilla species (2). The Andean cat may suffer from competition with the pampas cat (Leopardus colocolo) for food and space. The pampas cat occurs in higher numbers in the Andes, and also occupies the lower, more productive regions of the Andes, which may constrain the Andean cat (6). The Andean cat has a significantly lower population than the pampas cat and is believed to live in low densities, though no figures are known (5) (6). It appears to be extremely specialised in its habitat requirements, and the presence of rocky piles and boulders may be important (2).
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Description

The Andean cat is considered to be one of the most endangered wild cats in the world and perhaps the rarest South American felid, and yet is one of the least known cat species (4). It is very rare, and its similarities to the more common South American pampas cat (Leopardus colocolo) have made studying this species even more difficult (2). There have been only a handful of observations of the Andean cat in the wild, few photographs taken and just a few museum skins and skulls have been preserved (2). It is described as a small but sturdy cat, with long ash-grey fur patterned with rusty red spots (2) (4). The sides are marked with thick dark stripes extending down from the back and prominent dark grey bars run across its chest and forelegs (2). The tail is thick and long, at about 70 percent of the cat's head-body length, and is banded with approximately seven dark rings. Its nose is black, and its belly pale with dark spots (2).
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Distribution

Range Description

The Andean Cat has a restricted distribution, being found only in the higher elevations of the Andes moutains, in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru. In Argentina, while the average elevation of occurrence was estimated at 4,236 m (Perovic et al. 2003), it has also been found at lower elevations, with a new record of 1,800 m in the southern Andes (Sorli et al. 2006). In Chile, Napolitano collected confirmed scats of the Andean Cat from 3,714 to 4,414 m, but the probability of finding scats increased with altitude. In Bolivia, Villalba et al. (2008) consider it to occur generally only from 4,100 m and higher, and most records from Peru were collected at 4,000 m or higher (Cossios et al. 2007). While range in Chile appears to be less extensive (Iriarte 1998, Napolitano et al. 2008) than previously inferred (Scrocchi and Halloy 1986), in Peru, where it was previously thought to be only of marginal occurrence in the far south, new research has extended its range over 800 km north into the center of the country (Cossios et al. 2007).

The Andean Cat has only been observed in the wild a few times by scientists (Scrocchi and Halloy 1986, Sanderon 1999, Sorli et al. 2006), and there are few museum specimens (Garcia-Perea 2002), but the number of recent distribution records has greatly increased due to the efforts of the Andean Cat Alliance (www.gatoandino.org), a network of specialist researchers.
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Historic Range:
Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina

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Geographic Range

Andean cats (Oreailurus jacobita) inhabit the Andean mountain region of southern Peru and Bolivia to northern Chile and northwestern Argentina. The restricted range of Andean cats may be due to their specialized predation on mountain chinchillas and mountain viscachas, which also have a narrow habitat range in the high Andes mountains.

Biogeographic Regions: neotropical

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Range

The Andean cat lives in the Andean mountain range. It is distributed over 620,000 square kilometres in four countries, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru, and its presence is extremely sparse (4) (5).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Andean cats weigh only about 4 kg. The fur is thick, measuring 40 to 45 mm on the dorsal surface. Body color is pale silver or ash gray with irregular rust-colored spots. The spots are found in a general vertical line pattern along the body. Conspicuous dark stripes extend from the back down the sides of the animal and gray bars also run across the forelegs and chest. The belly is pale-colored with dark spots. The tail is thick and long with six to nine dark brown rings, the tip may be a pale white color in some individuals. The nose and lips are black with areas of white surrounding the edges of the lips, eyes and sides of the face. Also, dark stripes that start behind each eye meet those that run from the nose to the mouth. The spots on juvenile O. jacobita are more numerous and the rings on their tail are much narrower than an adult. As the cats age, their spot number decreases and the color of their coat also becomes lighter. Sexual dimorphism has not yet been observed. Body length ranges from 577 to 850 mm and the tail is about 70% of the body length at 410 to 485 mm. Their auditory bullae are greatly expanded.

Leopardus jacobitus is commonly mistaken for the pampas cat, Leopardus colocolo, which is also found in the Andean mountains. Pampas cats can be distinguished from Andean mountain cats by their shorter, less tapering tail with fewer rings. The bars on the pelt of pampas cats are black and much more distinct and the base coat is more yellow brown in color than that of Andean mountain cats.

Average mass: 4 kg.

Range length: 577 to 850 mm.

Average length: 661 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

  • Garcia-Perea, R. 2002. Oreailurus jacobita: morphological description and comparison with other felines from the altiplano. Journal of Mammology, 83(1): 110-124.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
The Andean Cat is restricted to the arid, sparsely vegetated areas of the high Andes above the timberline, primarily in the most most rocky and steep terrain (Napolitano et al. 2008). Its distribution is similar to the historic range of the Short-tailed Chinchilla (Chinchilla chinchilla) and current range of the Mountain Vizcacha (Lagidium spp.) (Yensen and Seymour 2000), which are its major prey (Walker et al. 2007, Napolitano et al. 2008). Most recent information about the species has come from analysis of scats found at latrine sites near rocky areas and caves (Cossios et al. 2007, Walker et al. 2007, Napolitano et al. 2008).

The Andean Cat is perhaps a solitary species, but may be seen in pairs or with cubs during mating season and after births respectively (Villalba et al. 2004). Mating season, according to local people in Bolivia, is between July and August (Villalba and Bernal 1998); howeve,r is possible that this period is extended until November or December due to small cubs have been observed in October and April (Villalba 2002, E. Delgado pers. comm.). The period between October and March corresponds to the spring and summer season in the southern hemisphere, and during these seasons it is common to record births for other wildlife species and it is the period of major productivity of vegetation (Villalba et al. 2004). Two kittens were seen by Villalba (2002), and what appears to be an older single cub by Sorli et al. (2006).

Most of the reported sightings of Andean Cats have been mainly during daytime; however, current studies on the species through camera traps and observations of a radio-collared Andean Cat indicate that the activity of the species is mainly at night or crepuscular (Villalba 2002, Lucherini et al. 2004, L. Villalba unpublished data). The crepuscular or nocturnal habits of the Andean Cat are likely related with feeding habits of its main prey, the Mountain Vizcacha, which is considered a diurnal and crepuscular species (Galende et al. 1998).

Data on territoriality is absent, however, as occurs with most felids (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002), it is possible that male territories are larger than those of females and that there could be a certain degree of territory overlapping between the sexes. Because the conditions of the Andean Cat habitat are severe and naturally fragmented, it is probable that territory and home ranges are very large; in fact the results of the radio-tracking of a female Andean Cat, between April and December 2004, gave a home range of 65.5 km² (95% minimum convex polygon: L. Villalba unpublished data).

The Andean Cat is a medium-sized felid; from measures of skins the total length in adults varies from 740 to 850 mm and in sub-adults varies from 577 to 600 mm; tail length is from 410 to 485 for adults and 330 to 420 mm for sub-adults. Only two records on the weight are available, the first from a sub-adult specimen from Peru, which weighed 4 kg (Pearson 1957, García-Perea 2002) and the second is from an adult female from Bolivia which weighed 4.5 kg (Delgado et al. 2004).

Andean Cat fur is mainly ash grey with brown-yellowish blotches that are distributed as vertical lines at both sides of the body, giving the appearance of continuous stripes. The tail of the Andean Cat is very characteristic. It is very long (66 - 75% of the head and body length), thick and cylindrical, with a fluffy aspect and with 6 to 9 wide rings of dark brown to black colour (García-Perea 2002). The legs also have dark and narrower blotches or stripes, but they don’t form complete rings.

Apparently the species is not sexually dimorphic in terms of fur color, but comparisons among Andean cat skulls carried out by García-Perea (2002) suggest that sexual dimorphism is present. Differences between juvenile and adult specimens were also found, with juveniles having a lighter coloration and more and smaller blotches (García-Perea 2002). Because of these features, sub-adult or juvenile Andean Cats can be confused much more easily with Pampas Cats (García-Perea 2002).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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The habitat of this South American cat is very specialized. Andean cats are only known from the arid to semi-arid regions of the high Andes mountains. Preferred habitat is normally above timberline at 3000 to 4000 meters. This habitat is primarily very rocky with scattered bunchgrass, tola bushes, and other small shrubs (Parastrephia phylicaeformis, Tetraglochin alatum, Nassauvia azillaris). They also occur in high mountain grasslands with wet, grassy meadows and various shrubs.

Range elevation: 3000 to 5000 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: mountains

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This species is known by the locals as 'huana titi', meaning the cat from dry places, which aptly describes its typical habitat (4). It inhabits the rocky, arid and sparsely vegetated areas of the high Andes above the tree-line, and is restricted to habitats above 4,000 metres (2) (4). The climate here is cold all year long, with snow or sleet storms at any time of year. Almost all precipitation is in the form of snow, and the winds are variable and intense. Vegetation is poor and dominated by a ralo grass. There are no trees but only ground-hugging bushes (5).
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Andean cats are specialized predators of mountain chinchillas and mountain viscachas. However, these cats may eat reptiles, birds, and other small mammals, such as rabbits, and tuco tucos.

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; reptiles

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Andean mountain cats are important predators of mountain viscacha, mountain chinchillas, and possibly other small to medium-sized vertebrate species throughout their range.

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Predation

There are no known predators of Andean cats. However, this animal does possess a fur color pattern that allows it to blend in with its surrounding habitat. Humans may prey on Andean cats occasionally for their pelts.

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Known prey organisms

Oreailurus jacobita preys on:
Reptilia
Aves
Mammalia

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

No communication behaviors between Andean cats have been recorded. Species closely related to Andean cats communicate through mewing and yowls.

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

There is no conclusive information on the lifespan of Andean cats in the wild. The one reported individual that was held in captivity lived for one year. No other biological data was recorded for this species. A closely related species, the pampas cat, has an average life span of nine years in the wild but can reach an age of 16.5 years in captivity. This lifespan information for pampas cats may be similar to Andean mountain cats.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
1 (high) years.

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Reproduction

No information has been documented about the mating system of Andean cats.

There has been no record of the general reproductive behavior of Andean cats due to a very limited number of observations in the wild. Their close relatives, pampas cats (Leopardus colocolo), breed from April to July. The litter size of pampas cats ranges from 1 to 3 kittens and they reach sexual maturity at two years of age. This reproductive information may be similar to that of Andean cats because of their close relationship.

Breeding interval: Andean mountain cats probably breed once yearly.

Breeding season: Breeding season is unknown.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous

There is no information available about parental care in Andean cats. However, like most felids, females probably provide all parental care and nurse and care for their young until they reach an age of independence. Most cat species also teach their young to hunt for a period before they disperse from their natal range.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; altricial ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); extended period of juvenile learning

  • Garcia-Perea, R. 2002. Oreailurus jacobita: morphological description and comparison with other felines from the altiplano. Journal of Mammology, 83(1): 110-124.
  • Cat Specialist Group, 1996. "Pampas Cat Species Account" (On-line ). Accessed 12/06/02 at http://lynx.uio.no/catfolk/pampas01.htm.
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
C2a(i)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Acosta, G., Cossios, D., Lucherini, M. & Villalba, L.

Reviewer/s
Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U. (Cat Red List Authority) & Schipper, J. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
There has been a substantial increase in research effort on the Andean cat since Nowell and Jackson (1996) wrote that "it is not clear whether [its] apparent rarity is a natural phenomenon, is attributable to human actions, or is simply a misperception resulting from lack of observations." Surveys since then have confirmed that the Andean cat is a rare species, occurring at lower densities in the same high-altitude environment as its close cousin, the pampas cat Leopardus colocolo (Perovic et al. 2003, Cossios et al. 2007, Napolitano et al. 2008, Villalba et al. 2008). Across its range, it has a very low level of genetic diversity (Cossios and Angers 2007).

The Andean's cat 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 vizcachas (Lagidium spp). The total effective population size (Ne) 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 (IUCN Cats Red List Workshop 2007).

History
  • 2002
    Endangered
  • 1996
    Vulnerable
  • 1994
    Insufficiently Known
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Rare
    (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988
    Rare
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
  • 1986
    Rare
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
  • 1982
    Rare
    (Thornback and Jenkins 1982)
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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 06/14/1976
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: Entire


Population detail:

Population location: Entire
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Leopardus jacobitus, see its USFWS Species Profile

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Leopardus jacobitus is a very rare and elusive cat species. As of 2001, the population size of breeding O. jacobita was estimated to be below 2,500 animals and there are no known subpopulations with more than 250 mature individuals. Leopardus jacobitus is ranked as an endangered animal by the IUCN Red List as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and is listed in Appendix I by CITES. The Andean mountain cat is now protected throughout its geographical range.

In Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia Andean cats are protected against commercialization, trade, and hunting by law. Sometimes considered the least known of the world's cats, Andean cats may be endangered due to habitat deterioration and exploitation by humans for pelts. The declining abundance of their primary prey, mountain chinchillas and mountain viscachas, may have contributed the most to their low population numbers. Chinchillas were once hunted to the brink of extinction and population numbers remain low.

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: appendix i

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered

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Status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).
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Population

Population
The Andean Cat is rare compared to its close relative the Pampas Cat. Although the Pampas Cat looks quite different in other parts of its wide range, in the high Andes it is similar in appearance to the Andean Cat, to the extent that local people find it difficult to distinguish the two (Villalba et al. in submission) as well as scientists, who have developed diagnostic keys (Garcia-Perea 2002, Cossios et al. 2007, Palacios 2007). Several studies have found records of the Pampas Cat much more frequently than the Andean Cat (Lucherini and Vidal 2003, Perovic et al. 2003, Cossios et al. 2007, Napolitano et al. 2008, Villalba et al. 2008). Napolitano et al. (2008) found reduced genetic diversity in the Andean Cat compared to the sympatric Pampas Cat, suggesting a "smaller current or historic population size."

The only population estimate available was for a 25,000 ha area in northern Chile, around the Salar de Surire National Monument, where Napolitano et al. (2008) estimated five individuals to occur based on genetic sampling, for a density of one per 5 km².

There are no known Andean Cats in captivity.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
The Andean Cat Conservation Action Plan (2004) considers traditional hunting the top threat, followed by prey reduction and habitat loss and fragmentation.

The Andean Cat (as well as the pampas cat) is considered a sacred animal according to indigenous Aymara and Quechua traditions. Throughout much of its range, dried and stuffed specimens are kept by local people for use in harvest festivals (Iriarte 1998, Sanderson 1999, Perovic et al. 2003, Villalba et al. 2004, Cossios et al. 2007, Villalba et al. 2008). Hunting for such cultural practices may represent a significant threat to the species. In Argentina's Catamarca province, 69% of people interviewed (n=13) said they had hunted small cats (Perovic et al. 2003).

The Mountain Chinchilla was likely to have been a major prey species for the Andean mountain cat, but the species was hunted nearly to extinction for the fur trade (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Its main prey is now the Mountain Vizcacha (Walker et al. 2007, Napolitano et al. 2008), which lives in patchily distributed small colonies and has also been reduced by hunting pressure. This may result in a highly fragmented distribution for the Andean Cat. Genetic analysis suggests that the Andean Cat had a historic or a currently small population size (Napolitano et al. 2008).

Napolitano et al. (2008) found that Andean Cats were much more dependent on Mountain Vizcachas than sympatric Pampas Cats, which took a wider variety of prey. However, Pampas Cats were more abundant that Andean Cats, even at higher altitudes (Napolitano et al. 2008), and inter-specific competition for Vizcacha prey could negatively impact the Andean Cat (Lucherini and Luengos Vidal 2003, Walker et al. 2007).

Habitat alteration and destruction, mainly by extensive mining, resource extraction for fuel, and to a lesser degree cattle grazing is increasingly affecting its populations in some parts of its range (Villalba et al. 2004).

Hunting by local people who consider the Andean Cat a predator of their small domestic livestock has been frequently reported particularly in some regions of Argentina, Chile and Peru (Iriarte 1998, Cossíos and Madrid 2003, Lucherini et al. 2003). These cats are also killed by dogs accompanying local shepherds. Cossios et al. (2007) also reported the hunting of Andean and Pampas Cats for food and for traditional medicine in central Peru.

Napolitano et al. (2008) found that the probability of finding sign of the Andean Cat decreased with proximity to human settlement.

Cossios and Angers (2007) found that the genetic diversity of Andean Cats was extremely low across their range.
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It is not clear whether the rarity of the Andean cat is a natural phenomenon or attributable to human actions. Alternatively it may simply be a misperception resulting from lack of observations (2). Pelts of this species have been seen in local markets occasionally, killed by herders who carry guns (2). The high Andean Indians appear to have little knowledge of this species and the only pelts observed to be used in local ceremonies have been those of the pampas cat (5). There are no records of international trade of this species either. It is therefore thought that hunting of the Andean cat is primarily carried out to protect local cattle (1). The common threat of habitat destruction, common worldwide, does not apply here, as there have been no significant changes in land-use of the high Andes over the last 2,000 years. If anything, the human population has decreased in these regions (2). It is possible that the Andean cat is rare because it has evolved to be a specialised predator of the mountain chinchilla and viscacha species which have naturally patchy distributions. More specifically, if the Andean cat did evolve to hunt the nocturnal long-tailed chinchilla, then its low numbers could be explained (1); only 100 years ago the long-tailed chinchilla was abundant in the Andean mountains, but, since the early 1900s, hunting for its fur has driven it to the brink of extinction (7). This widespread extinction of chinchilla colonies may have had disastrous results on the Andean cat (1). However, if this cat is not a specialist predator, its rarity must be attributed to other factors for small prey is abundant in the Andes (1).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Included on CITES Appendix I (as Leopardus jacobitus). The Andean Cat also has full protection at national level across its entire range, as described below. However, law enforcement is problematic, and recently hunted specimens have been observed in the field and for sale in special markets to be used in religious ceremonies. Traditional cultural reverence for the Andean Cat should be the foundation of a conservation education program to reduce hunting pressure (Lucherini et al. 2003, Villalba et al. 2008). Conservation also depends on maintaining and restoring colonies of the main prey species, Mountain Vizcachas (Lagidium spp.), which historically have been destroyed or severely reduced (Napolitano et al. 2008).

The Andean Cat Conservation Action Plan (Villalba et al. 2004) lists protected areas where Andean Cat presence is confirmed and suspected.

The action plan has six objectives:

To determine the current distribution and relative abundance of Andean Cat populations, and the threats that affect the species and natural ecosystems;

To carry out scientific research to provide basic information on Andean Cat biology and ecology;

To mitigate impacts of human activities on the Andean Cat and natural ecosystems through community education and participation;

To strengthen the management of protected areas where the Andean Cat is present, promote the establishment of new areas or corridors and encourage the development of conservation initiatives in the region;

To promote the implementation and adequacy of conservation legislation and policies regarding the Andean Cat and natural ecosystems; and

To continuously evaluate the actions developed in the implementation of this plan.

National legislation

Argentina
The Andean Cat is protected by National Law 22421 of wildlife conservation and its Statutory
Decree 666/97. Also, Resolution N°63/86 of the Secretary of Agriculture.

Bolivia
Along with other wild species of fauna and flora, the Andean Cat is protected by the Supreme
Decree N°22641, promulgated in 1990, which establishes a general and undefined ban for the
pursuit, capture, storing and conditioning of wild animals and its derivative products.

Chile
All felid species are fully protected since 1972 by Law N° 19473. The illegal hunting of felines in
Chile is penalized with fines up to US$ 6.000 and imprisonment up to 3 years.

Peru
In Peru the Andean Cat is considered a threatened species and its hunting, commerce and
possession (live or dead animals or its parts) is prohibited (Supreme Decree N°013-99-AG,
1999).
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Conservation

International trade of this species is prohibited by its listing on Appendix I of CITES (3), and according to national legislation, the Andean cat is fully protected throughout its range (2). There is a huge gap in our knowledge of this species and how to best protect it. However, since the publication of the Cat Action Treasury Plan there have been substantial increases in research efforts (1) (7). The Cat Action Treasury has sponsored surveys to determine the status of this species and improve our understanding of this cat in order to inform conservation measures (8). These surveys confirmed the rarity of this species. The Andean cat has been upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red List (1) (7). It has been suggested by the Andean Cat Alliance (AGA), previously the Committee for the Conservation of the Andean Cat (COCGA), that because this cat needs large areas to live successfully, and its range extends over the Andes through international borders, a multinational, cooperative approach is necessary for its long-term conservation (5). AGA has launched a multinational project to collate and analyse data on the on the Andean cat in order to initiate immediate conservation efforts, and in 2004 a conservation action plan was drawn up for the species. The fact that there are no captive specimens or breeding programmes for the Andean cat means that the survival of this species depends on the development and success of these conservation measures (5).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no negative impacts of Andean cats.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Pelts of these animals are occasionally seen in South American fur markets but no record of international trade exists for this species.

Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material

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Wikipedia

Andean mountain cat

The Andean mountain cat (Leopardus jacobita) is a small wildcat.[2] It is one of only two felids for which no subspecies have been classically described (the Bay Cat is the other).[3] Fewer than 2500 individuals are thought to exist.[4] This cat is one of about two dozen small wildcat species found around the world. In comparison to their larger cousins which may have millions of dollars dedicated to conservation efforts, conservation efforts exist on budgets in the thousands for small wild felids like the Andean mountain cat.[5]

Description[edit]

Its habitat and appearance make it the small cat analog of the snow leopard. It lives around 3,500–4,800 m (11,500–15,700 ft)—well above the tree line—and only where there is water to support it. While it is about the size of a domestic cat, it appears larger because of its long tail and thick fur. Like snow leopards, the coat of an Andean mountain cat is silvery-grey in color, with a white underside and numerous dark spots and stripes. There are black rings around the tail and limbs.[6]

Body length ranges from 57 to 64 centimetres (22 to 25 in), tail length is 41 to 48 cm (16 to 19 in), shoulder height is about 36 cm (14 in) and body weight is 5.5 kilograms (12 lb).

The tail is long, thick and blunt without tapering. It is approximately 23 of a cat's body length, and has 6–9, wide dark rings. The front paws have dark narrow stripes that do not form complete rings. The nose is black or very dark in coloration. Distinct dark lines run along the sides of the eyes and the tips of the ears are rounded.[7]

There is a difference between the coloration in juvenile and mature Andean cats. The markings on the coat are darker on juveniles, especially those on the sides of the body. The markings are smaller and more numerous. This can cause confusion and mistaken identification with the pampas cat.[7]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

It is one of the least-known and rarest of all felines; almost all that is known about it comes from a few observations in the wild and from skins. There are none in captivity. It is believed to live only in the Andes mountains and lower slope in Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.[8] An example ecoregion of occurrence is the Chilean matorral in Chile.[9]

There has been a substantial increase in research effort on the Andean mountain cat since Nowell and Jackson wrote that "it is not clear whether [its] apparent rarity is a natural phenomenon, is attributable to human actions, or is simply a misperception resulting from lack of observations".[3] Surveys since then have confirmed that the Andean cat is a rare species, occurring at lower densities in the same high-altitude environment as its close cousin, the Pampas Cat (Leopardus colocolo).[10] Across its range, it has a very low level of genetic diversity.[2][11]

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 (Lagidium spp). The total effective population size could be below 2,500 mature individuals with a declining trend due to loss of prey base and habitat, persecution and hunting for traditional ceremonial purposes, and no subpopulation having an effective population size larger than 250 mature individuals.[12]

While the Andean mountain cat's main prey is likely 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.[13] 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. They are often killed in Chile and Bolivia because of local superstition.

Competition with other predators[edit]

There are six different species of carnivores that live in the Andes Mountain range. Three of these species are cats, the Andean cat, the pampas cat, and the puma. The puma is a large predator, while the Andean and Pampas Cat are medium-sized predators. These two medium-sized predators are very much alike. They both hunt within the same territory. They hunt the same prey, the mountain viscacia (Lagidium viscacia). The viscacia makes up 93.9% of the biomass consumed in the Andean cat's diet while the Pampas Cat depends on it for 74.8% of its biomass consumption.[14] Both of these cats depend on a specific prey to make up a large portion of their dietary needs. In some areas, the mountain viscacha will make up 53% of the Andean cat's prey items. This is because the other prey items are so significantly smaller that even though the Andean cat will successfully hunt, kill, and eat a mountain viscacha half the time, the mountain viscacha is so much larger than the other food items, it make up more substance.[15] They also hunt frequently during the same periods. During one study, both the Andean cat and the Pampas Cat were seen most frequently during moonless nights; the second most sightings of these cats were during full moons.[16] These two cats both hunt the same prey, making it more difficult for them to find food, essentially creating a race to find the prey before the other does.

Morphological differences between Andean and pampas cats[edit]

Prey is not the only thing these two cats have in common. They look similar. This makes it difficult to identify which cat is observed and makes correct estimations of populations problematic. This can be especially difficult when attempting to gain correct information from the observations of individuals that have seen one of these cats but are not aware to look for specific features to distinguish between the two.[17]

Differences Between Andean and Pampas Cats[18][19]
Andean catTraitPampas Cat
2/3 of the total body length. Thick and blunt with 6–9 wide rings.Tail1/2 of the total body length. Thin and tapered with 9 thin rings.
Maximum width of rings: 60mmTail ringsMaximum width of rings: 20mm
Distinctive lines on sides of eyes. Rounded tips of ears.Facial featuresIf lines are present, they are brown and less dramatic. Triangular-tipped ears are present for most of this species.
Very dark or blackNoseLight colored, generally pink
Yellow– and rust-colored or gray and blackOverall colorCream, red, rust, and black in color
One consistent coat patternCoat patternThree different coat patterns with different variations
Uniform coloration of the base colorEar colorPatterned colored ears
Rings are not complete; stripes are spot-like in appearanceFront pawsTwo or more well-defined, complete, black rings

Reproduction[edit]

By using the residents' observations of Andean cats in coupled pairs with their litters, it is theorized that the mating season for the Andean cat is within the months of July and August. Because kittens have been seen in the months of April and October, this could mean that the mating season extends into November or even December. A litter will usually consist of one or two offspring born in the spring and summer months. This is common with many other species that also have their young when food resources are increasing.[20]

Laws and legislation[edit]

The Andean cat's habitat spans four different South American countries. Each country has made individual laws to protect this wild cat. Each country also has its own protected game areas where hunting is prohibited. The table below outlines the number of the protected areas that fall within the Andean cat's habitat. Biologists are attempting to determine if any of these protected areas house significant populations of Andean cats.

Legislation and Policies Protecting the Andean cat[21]
CountryLaw or policyProtection offeredYear enactedNumber of protected areasSightings within protected areasUnevaluated areas
ArgentinaNational Law 22421 of Wildlife ConservationProhibits hunting and/or trade of the Andean catUnknown year9 protected areasEvidence found in 7 areas1 unevaluated, 1 partial
Statutory Decree 666/97
Resolution N' 63/86 of the Secretary of Agriculture
BoliviaDecree N'22421General and undefined ban on hunting, capture, storage, and/or conditioning of wild animals and their by-products.19908 protected areasEvidence found in 6 areas2 areas unevaluated
ChileLaw N'19473Ban on hunting all felids, with penalties of up to $6,000 fine and/or imprisonment up to 3 years.19727 protected areasEvidence found in 7 areasAll areas evaluated
PeruSupreme Decree N'013-99-AGBan on hunting, trading, and possession of living, dead, or body parts of the Andean cat199912 protected areasEvidence found in 4 areas8 areas unevaluated

Conservation[edit]

In 2002 the status of the Andean cat was moved from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Due to the Andean cat's habitat being spread across four countries, biologists have attempted to collaborate in efforts to protect the species. One of the groups formed was the Andean Cat Conservation Committee, now known as the Andean Cat Alliance. The table below was taken directly from the most current strategy plan for 2011-2016.

Ranking of direct and indirect threats affecting Andean cats and some possible interventions to minimize their impact.[22]
PriorityDirect ThreatIndirect ThreatIntervention
1Habitat LossVarious forms of land use including mining, and water extraction, potentially increased by climate change.Creation of protected areas and consolidation or improvement of existing ones; obeying with government and the industry sector; implementation of existing legislation; involvement of local communities on conservation and land use decisions; research on desertification processes affecting the Andean cat.
2Habiat degradationInappropriate pastoralist and agricultural practices; unregulated tourism; mining, oil/gas extraction; unregulated use of water.Working with communities to improve livestock management; lobbying with governments, industries and local communitites to regulate tourist activities; implementation of existing legislation; implementation of water management plans when existing; research on the impacts of habitat degradation on Andean Cat population.
3Opportunistic/Palliative HuntingConflicting with small livestock breeding; lack of knowledge of the species by local community member; presence of dogs, incidental captureConflict mitigation, community education, implementation of existing legislation; research on the most effective methods to mitigate conflicts and improvement of perception of the species by local people.
4Traditional HuntingReligious use of skins or taxidermy, hunting due to traditional beliefsCommunity education; rekindling of traditional knowledge.
5Reduction of prey populationsHunting, presence of domestic dogsCommunity education; implementation of existing legislation; research on predator-prey dynamics
6Introduction of diseasesDogs and cats as reservoirs and/or vectorsResearch to determine the true extent of this threat
7HybridizationSympatric with phylogenetically related species (L. colocolo)Research to determine the true extent of this threat.

Research[edit]

Andean mountain cat

Prior to 1998, the only evidence of this cat's existence was two photographs. It was then that Jim Sanderson took up his quest to find the Andean mountain cat.[23][24] Sanderson sighted and photographed one in Chile in 1998 near Chile's northern border with Peru. In 2004, he joined a Bolivian research team and helped radio-collar an Andean cat in Bolivia. In April 2005, this cat was found dead, perhaps after being caught in a poacher's trap.[25]

Sanderson is still heavily involved with the Andean cat. With coworkers Constanza Napolitano, Lilian Villalba, and Eliseo Delgado and others in the Andean Cat Alliance, the Small Cat Conservation Alliance 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.[26]

Conservation efforts are also being made by the Feline Conservation Federation to preserve this species.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Leopardus jacobitus (sic)". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 532–628. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ a b c Acosta, G., Cossios, D., Lucherini, M. & Villalba, L. (2008). Leopardus jacobita. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 28 February 2009. Database entry includes justification for why this species is endangered.
  3. ^ a b Nowell and Jackson, 1996
  4. ^ Small Cats Conservation Alliance ″Why Now?″, Andean Cat Project. Online. 1 March 2009.
  5. ^ Small Cats Conservation Alliance home page. Online. 1 March 2009.
  6. ^ Sunquist, Mel; Sunquist, Fiona (2002). Wild cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 215–218. ISBN 0-226-77999-8. 
  7. ^ a b Garcia-Perea, Rosa (2002). "Andean Mountain Cat, Oreailurus Jacobita: Morphological Description and Comparison With Other Felines From The Altiplano". journal of Mammalogy 83 (1): 110–124. doi:10.1644/1545-1542(2002)083<0110:amcojm>2.0.co;2. 
  8. ^ Small Cats Conservation Alliance Andean Cat Project. Online. 1 Mar 2009.
  9. ^ C. Michael Hogan & World Wildlife Fund. 2013. Chilean matorral. ed. M.McGinley. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC
  10. ^ Reppucci, J. et al. (2011). "Estimating detection and density of the Andean cat in the high Andes". Journal of Mammalogy 92 (1): 140–147. doi:10.1644/10-MAMM-A-053.1. 
  11. ^ Cossios and Angers 2007
  12. ^ IUCN Cats Red List Workshop 2007
  13. ^ Villalba et al. 2004
  14. ^ Napolitano,C. (2008). "Ecological and Biogeographical inferences on two sympatric and enigmatic Andean cat species using genetic identification of faecal samples". Molecular Ecology 17: 678–690. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294x.2007.03606.x. 
  15. ^ Walker (2007). "Diets of three species of Andean Carnivores in High Altitude Deserts of Argentina". Journal of Mammalogy 88 (2): 519–525. doi:10.1644/06-mamm-a-172r.1. 
  16. ^ Lucherini, M. (2009). "Activity Pattern Segregation of Carnivores in the High Andes". Journal of Mammalogy 90 (6): 1404–1409. doi:10.1644/09-mamm-a-002r.1. 
  17. ^ Palacios, R., 2007. Manual para identificación de carnívoros andinos. Alianza Gato Andino, Córdoba, Argentina. 40 pp. Financiado por: Wildlife Conservation Network
  18. ^ Garciia-Perea, R. (2002). "Andean Mountain Cat, Oreailurus Jacobita: Morphological description and comparison with other felines from the Altiplano". Journal of Mammalogy 83 (1): 110–124. doi:10.1644/1545-1542(2002)083<0110:amcojm>2.0.co;2. 
  19. ^ yensen, E. (2000). "Oreailurus jacobita". Mammalian Species 644: 1–6. doi:10.1644/1545-1410(2000)644<0001:oj>2.0.co;2. 
  20. ^ Cossíos D., F. Beltrán Saavedra, M. Bennet, N. Bernal, U. Fajardo, M. Lucherini, M. J. Merino, J. Marino, C.Napolitano, R. Palacios, P. Perovic, Y. Ramirez, L. Villalba, S. Walker, y C. Sillero-Zubiri /2007/. Manual de metodologías para relevamientos de carnívoros alto andinos. Alianza Gato Andino. Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  21. ^ Villalba, L., M., Walker, S., Cossios, D., Iriarte, A., Sanderson, J., Gallardo, G., Alfaro, F., Napolitano, C., And C. Sillero-Zubiri. 2004. The Andean cat: Conservation Action Plan. Andean Cat Alliance. La Paz, Bolivia.
  22. ^ Andean Cat Alliance. 2011. Strategic Plan for the Andean Cat Conservation. 2011-2016. La Paz, Bolivia
  23. ^ Tidwell, John. "Endangered Cat Still On Prowl". Archived from the original on 11 April 2009. Retrieved 28 February 2009. 
  24. ^ The Wildlife Conservation Network page on the Small Cat Conservation Alliance.
  25. ^ [1]
  26. ^ Sanderson, Jim & Villalba, Lillan. "Sacred Cat of the Andes". Archived from the original on 24 March 2009. Retrieved 28 February 2009. 
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