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The Geoffroy’s cat Oncifelis geoffroyi is another of the small, spotted felines in South America. They are found from sea level up to 3,300 metres in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia and Argentina, across Paraguay, Uruguay and south throughout Argentina and southern Chile to Patagonia.
They prefer open habitats such as pampas grasslands, dry Chaco shrub woodland and around the alpine salt desert in northwestern Argentina. While most of its range is arid or semi-arid, they also occur in wetlands. The Geoffroy’s cat shares much of its range with the Pampas cat Oncifelis colocolo, but does not extend as far north.
About the size of a domestic cat, Geoffroy’s cats were originally thought to be the same species as the Kodkod Oncifelis guigna, and recent genetic studies have shown the two small cats to be closely related.
Little is known of their social organization, but they are likely solitary. Radio-collared cats have been most active at night, or during early mornings and evenings. Daytime resting areas include burrows of larger mammals and tree cavities. Geoffroy’s spend most of their time on the ground, but are excellent climbers.They are known to use cavities in tree roots as birth dens.
Their diet is made up of small mammals, birds, fish, frogs and coypu. One female was observed trying to carry a large, running bird almost a metre high, up into a tree. In Argentina, their diet is mainly hares and European rabbit, despite the high rodent densities. Geoffroy’s cats in Chile feed extensively on hares, but the frequency of occurrence varied with the seasons. In spring, hares constituted 79% of the diet, rodents 18% and birds 3%. During winter months, hares made up 41% of prey species, with rodents 50% and birds 9%.
A field study in Argentina found that forest fragments were used for fecal and scent marking sites, while grasslands and marshes were used for hunting and resting. In Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, 93% of all feces found were in the crook of trees 3-5 metres above the ground, and the middens were often reused.
Home ranges in the wet pampas grasslands were 2.5-3.4 sq km with males’ ranges 25% larger than females. In a Chilean beech forest, home ranges were much larger, with 2.3—6.5 sq km noted for two females, and 10.9-12.4 sq km for two males.
Versatile and tolerant of moderate deforestation, Geoffroy’s cat can adapt to human presence better than other small cat species in South America. Rather than flee from disturbed areas, they seek them out and take advantage of the lack of competition from other species. They are easily trapped and tamed, and many natives keep them as pets and rodent control agents. In some areas, they are considered a threat to domestic poultry and shot on sight. In other areas, they are considered a culinary item.
These small cats were featured heavily in the international fur trade in the 1970’s and 80’s. From 1978-1980 over a quarter of a million Geoffroy’s cat skins were traded in international markets. It takes 25 Geoffroy’s cats to make one fur coat. Commercial trade in the skins of Geoffroy’s cats was prohibited in 1992, but they are still killed as livestock predators and pelts may be traded illegally.
Geoffroy’s cats are classed by the IUCN as Near Threatened, due to habitat loss and fragmentation.
These small wild cats are so little known that few correctly identified pictures exist. Most of the photos of Geoffroy’s cats on the internet are misidentified margays, ocelots, kodkods or other small spotted felines. The photo at the top is taken from the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group website, and is indeed a Geoffroy’s Cat. The camera trap photo was sent to us by the researchers studying the small cats in Argentina. Please respect the photographer’s copyrights.
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