Monthly Wild Cat News
A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World
Andean Cats Oreailurus jacobita are one of the most beautiful of all wild cats. The 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. Extremely thick, plush fur of silvery grey is very fine and soft, up to 5 cm long on the back, and the underside is pale with dark spots. Prominent dark grey bars also run across the chest and forelegs. The backs of the large, rounded ears are dark grey, and the nose is black.
The legs also have dark and narrower blotches or stripes, but they don’t form complete rings. Large feet are marked with blackish bars and spots, and the soles are greyish-brown. Their magnificent tail is about 70% of the body length. Because the underside has hair as long and as thick as the upper side, it appears perfectly round. It is ringed with six to nine dark bands, and has a black tip. The long tail is probably used for warmth, wrapping it around the body when asleep, tucking their nose inside.
The Andean Cat is a medium-sized felid; from measures of skins the total length in adults varies from 740 to 850 mm; tail length is from 410 to 485. Only two records on the weight are available, the first from a sub-adult specimen in Peru, which weighed 4 kg, and the second from an adult female which weighed 4.5 kg.
There is no variation between the fur colour of males or females, but differences between juvenile and adult specimens have been found. The juveniles have a lighter coloration and more and smaller blotches, which means the young can be confused much more easily with Pampas Cats Leopardus colocolo.
These cats are found on the high Andes of Peru, Bolivia and northern Argentina and Chile. They are apparently very specialized in their habitat requirements, having been found in the rocky arid and semi arid zones above the timber line, up to 4,000 metres. Vegetation consists mainly of small scattered dwarf shrubs and clumps of bunch grass, with numerous rock piles and boulders.
In 2002, an Andean Cat and kitten were sighted in a reserve in San Juan province, Argentina, which extended their known distribution south by 500 kilometres. Field work in 2004 found evidence of these cats in the foothills and steppe on the eastern side of the Andes Mountains. These new records are the lowest ever reported, and extend their distribution to scrub habitat within the Patagonian steppe. The foothills population has a patchy distribution, and is thought to coincide with that of their main prey species.
The only population estimate available was for a 25,000 ha area in northern Chile, where it was estimated to be one cat per 5 km². Reduced genetic diversity has also been found in the northern Chile population, suggesting a small historic population size. Signs of their presence decreased with proximity to human settlement.
The total population size could be below 2,500 mature individuals, with a declining trend. Their distribution coincides with the historic range of the mountain chinchilla, which was hunted to the brink of extinction for the fur trade a century ago. Their diet reveals a preference for another member of the same family, the mountain viscacha, which lives in patchily distributed small colonies, and has also declined due to hunting pressure.
The ecology and behaviour of these cats is barely known. Most of the reported sightings of Andean Cats have been during daytime; however, current studies through camera traps and observations of a radio-collared animal indicate the activity is mainly at night or crepuscular. The activity pattern of the Andean Cat is likely related to feeding habits of its main prey species.
Researchers have found that Andean Cats are much more dependent on the viscacha than the Pampas Cats, which take a wider variety of prey. Pampas Cats were also more abundant that Andean Cats, even at higher altitudes, and competition for viscacha prey could negatively impact the Andean Cat.
The Andean Cat is perhaps a solitary species, but may be seen in pairs or with cubs during mating season and after births. Mating season, according to local people in Bolivia, is between July and August; however is possible that this period is extended until November or December due to the fact small cubs have been observed in October and April. Nothing more is known of their reproduction.
Habitat loss though extensive mining, resource extraction for fuel and cattle grazing are the main threats to the Andean Cat, followed by hunting.
Hunting by local people who consider the Andean Cat a predator of their small domestic livestock has been frequently reported. These cats are also killed by dogs accompanying local shepherds, and hunted for food and traditional medicine in central Peru. While they have full protection at national levels, law enforcement is problematic, and recently hunted specimens have been observed in the field and for sale in special markets.
Andean Cats are considered sacred animals according to indigenous traditions. Throughout much of their range, dried and stuffed specimens are kept by local people for use in harvest festivals. Hunting for such cultural practices may represent a significant threat to the species. In Argentina’s Catamarca province, 69% of people interviewed said they had hunted the small cats.
Although the Pampas Cat looks quite different in other parts of its range, in the high Andes the two species look similar, to the extent that local people and scientists find it difficult to distinguish the two.
The Andean Cat has seldom been observed in the wild by scientists. However, the number of recent distribution records has greatly increased due to the efforts of the Andean Cat Alliance, a network of specialist researchers formed in 1999. There are no known Andean Cats in captivity, and few museum specimens. The Andean Cat is one of the few small cat species listed as Endangered (2008).
For more information, see The Andean Cat Alliance
The African Golden Cat Profelis aurata remains an enigma in the cat world. About twice the size of a domestic cat, they are very sturdy, powerful animals, with stout, relatively short legs and large paws. There are two colour phases: chestnut-red/fawn and silvery/dark slate-grey, of which the grey phase is often called the silver cat. Both red and grey phases occur in the same areas, and a few melanistic specimens have been recorded.
The underparts are whitish, and the belly and inner sides of the limbs can have variable amounts of dark spotting. There are four different coat patterns found throughout the Golden cat’s range: spotted all over; spots on the back and neck indistinct; no pattern except on flanks; and no pattern except on belly. Their head is relatively small with a fairly large muzzle, irises of green to Golden brown. Small white patches are visible above their eyes, especially at the inner corners. The backs of the small, rounded ears are black and some individuals have white patches around the eyes and cheeks. The tail is about one third of the head and body length, and has a dark line on the upper side, sometimes with distinct rings.
African Golden cats are the only forest-dependent wild cats in Africa, yet remain almost entirely unstudied. Aside from a few projects investigating diet, current knowledge is largely based on captive individuals and occasional sightings in the wild.
These cats usually occur in moist equatorial rainforests, but have been found to occasionally inhabit drier woodlands as long as they are near water. They are also common at high altitudes up to 3,600 metres in mountainous areas where they live in deciduous rain forest, bamboo forests, and along water courses extending into the drier, more open areas. Golden cats apparently adapt well to logged areas, as destruction of the canopy favours the dense secondary undergrowth they prefer. Edge environments generally contain high rodent densities, and thus may be preferred.
While thought to be crepuscular and nocturnal, a recent camera trap study in Gabon (2011) found the African Golden Cats to be active at all times of day and night, and the majority of photographs were obtained during the day. Peaks in Golden Cat activity corresponded weakly with periods of reduced Leopard Panthera pardus activity, with increased activity during the hottest part of the afternoon when Leopards are least active.
They have been seen resting in the lower branches of trees during the day and are thus thought to be partially arboreal. However, the short tail is difficult to explain in this regard since most arboreal cats have a long tail that they use as a counterbalance when climbing.
In the Congo and Central African Republic, scat studies revealed rodents and squirrels were the main prey species, followed by small antelope.
No dens with kittens have been described from the wild and very few have been raised in captivity. A litter of one to three, usually one or two, kittens are born in a hollow tree den, rocky crevice, or thick vegetation after about 78 days. Kittens weigh 180 – 235 grams at birth and sometimes have small ear tufts. They grow fairly rapidly with their eyes opening in six days, and are weaned between three and four months, at which time they weigh 2.5 – 3 kg. They reach sexual maturity between 11-18 months of age, and have lived up to 12 years in captivity.
Although the species has been known for 200 years, it wasn’t until 2002 that the first photograph of a wild African Golden Cat was obtained. In parts of central and western Africa, African Golden cats rank highly in local religious beliefs. When asked about the cat by researchers, natives are reluctant to talk about them or even to acknowledge that they exist.
Baka pygmy tribesmen value their tail as a talisman to protect them when they are hunting elephants, and the skin is traditionally incorporated into tribal robes. They are known locally as the ‘leopard’s brother’ because the two cats are often found in the same area.
They are Africa’s least known felid, but may be less rare than is generally thought due to the density of their habitat. Due to their adaptability, the species is not restricted to primary forest and also does well in secondary forest.
Loss of habitat is the main threat to the population; they have lost about 44% of their former range. The forests of west Africa have been heavily damaged by human activity, and roads built into the forest by logging operations provide easier access for the bush meat trade, which figures largely in the region’s economy. This trade leads to local depletion of prey species, and the cats are occasionally caught in traps set for other animals. There seems to be little direct hunting of African Golden cats but skins are occasionally sold in local markets for ritual purposes, alongside medicinal herbs and fetishes.
African Golden Cats share much of their range with the larger Leopard. Research studies on this big cat have found that when their larger prey species are less abundant, they switch to smaller prey, thus directly competing with the Golden Cat for food resources. A study of the Leopard in Gabon also found African Golden cat remains in 5 of 196 Leopard scats. Conversely, the eradication of the Leopard from Bwindi National Park in Uganda has led to the African Golden Cat being the dominant carnivore in that area. African Golden Cats are classed as Near Threatened (2008).
Yes, I know we don’t normally feature the biggest cat species on this blog. However, last spring the Siberian Tiger population at the Calgary Zoo increased by three. Local Calgary photographer Daniel Arndt was just in the right spot at the right time, and captured these photos of mum and cubs in their pool. We had to share.
By Mauro Lucherini, GECM, Universidad Nacional del Sur, Argentina
Our team has been working to contribute to the conservation of the endangered Andean cat Leopardus jacobita since 1998, as part of the efforts of a cross-border initiative called Andean cat Alliance (www.gatoandino.org) that aims to preserve this felid and its habitat throughout its entire distribution range. In the last few years, our project has concentrated its efforts in a remote area of almost pristine habitat in the high Andes of northwestern Argentina (Vilama, Jujuy province). Here we carried out interviews with local people to analyze human/cat conflicts, we worked with hundreds of children from rural schools, and we were successful at collecting a number of camera trapping photographs sufficient to prove that the population density of this cat is low and that it is not simply shy, but truly rare.
And yet, after years of field work we were still struggling to understand the reasons for this cat’s rarity.
To answer this question, a couple of years ago our team decided to accept the greatest challenge: live trapping and collaring a sample of individuals of the two small cats living together in the area (Andean cat and Pampas cat Leopardus colocolo) and track their movements. Our team started live trapping in September 2011, full of expectations, but 46 days later, when summer thunder storms forced us to stop fieldwork, we had only been able to catch a young Pampas cat, too small to wear a collar.
By last May, when we rebuilt our field camp, located at 4200 m elevation and a distance of two hours walk from the closest village, our optimism had partially faded away. When the trap alarms went off five hours after activating the traps, we thought it was a false trigger. To our total surprise, what we found was an adult male Andean cat!
This was only the second specimen of this species to be live trapped and radiocollared ever! Even more unexpectedly, a week later a Pampas cat was also captured, in the same exact spot as the Andean cat.
Our study site enjoys the typical environmental conditions of the southern high Andes: extreme daily temperature variations (from 25 to -15o C), frequent strong winds, severe dryness, and, of course, lack of oxygen in the air. In spite of this challenging habitat and climate, with the support of a wildlife vet from San Francisco Zoo (A. Mutlow) we were successful at collaring and releasing both cats, when fully recovered, at the trapping site.
We used collars with a new technology that enables on-board storage of positions obtained through a GPS receiver. By now, if the equipment had worked properly, our team would have been able to finally learn a lot more from the mysterious cats living in the wilderness of the High Andes. Unfortunately, the self release mechanisms of both GPS collars failed a couple of weeks after each capture and we were left with about 30 locations for each cat. Nevertheless, we are not giving up and are now looking for additional funding to buy new collars and tag a few more of these mysterious cats.
To help the scientists learn what these cats need to survive, you can make a donation of any amount to this project. 100% of funds go directly to the cats!
Dr. Mauro Lucherini has sent us a set of pictures that were recently obtained from one of their camera locations in the espinal area of central Argentina. According to the researchers, this is a very, very dry and hot region and cattle ranching is destroying the natural shrubland but some wildlife is still there, including cats!
The Argentine Espinal is a dry bushland, interesting, but not the most hospitable habitat in the world! Here is a picture taken by a camera trap with a thermometer. Fifty three degrees Celsius is about 127 Fahrenheit.
The most common mammals here are certainly not cats.
But with a little patience….
You may attract the attention of a Geoffroy’s Cat!
Especially when rain does not come!
While I was looking at these photos, I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth the researchers manage to find a small, house-cat sized animal in the vastness of the Argentine espinal, and learn where to place their cameras. I asked Dr. Lucherini this question, and here is his reply:
Your question is truely a good one. The vastness and homogenity of the landscapes where we work is a major challenge. We look for habitat edges, natural or created by man, such as roads or, even better small cow trails. Large trees (which are relatively uncommon) may also provide a good spot. But we also put 5 cameras in each site to increase capture probability. To understand the factors affecting carnivore presence at landscape scale, we have already sampled 23 sites (at least 5 km apart), leaving the camera traps for 25 days in each site.
Read more about the Geoffroy’s Cat
See more photos received from the research team at GECM
Photographer and ISEC Canada member Ben Williams in the United Kingdom has sent us more beautiful felines. This time he’s been visiting the fishing cats in Newquay Zoo. Don’t you just love the looks on these faces?
Read more about these unusual members of the wild cat family on our Fishing Cat fact sheet.
We hope you enjoyed our Black-footed Cat Blitz throughout the month of February! Thanks to the generosity of Dr. Alex Sliwa and the researchers of the Black-footed Cat Working Group, we were able to share a wealth of little-known data on these smallest of wild cats.
There is still so much more to be learned about these vulnerable little felines, and the researchers need your help. Even the smallest donations add up, so if you’re a Black-footed fan, please Donate Today. 100% of funds raised go directly to the conservation of these tiny cats.
Help the researchers of the Black-footed Cat Working Group continue this conservation study!
Learn more about Black-footed Cats on our website
There are so many different aspects to the conservation of small wild cats that it is sometimes completely overwhelming. Habitat loss, poaching, hunting for fur – these are the standard threats they face, and we are used to hearing about those.
Every once in a while though, something comes across the internet that just flat out makes us nauseous.
Many of the fact sheets on small wild cats mention in passing that the animals are considered food items in some countries. To our North American sensibilities this is just impossible to imagine, but it does happen. I have purposely not included a photograph of the cat species mentioned below – the mental image is bad enough.
A chef in Hanoi was caught red-handed killing an endangered leopard cat to serve at his restaurant. The chef said he killed the cat following a request from his manager, district police chief Nguyen Ba Hung said.
The manager told police an acquaintance in Phu Tho province gave him the cat to look after. He only decided to have it killed when a customer asked him for cat meat. He intended to sell the meat at a price of 41 dollars per kilogram. The animal weighed 3.5 kilograms.
Both the manager and his chef have been arrested and will be punished, Hung said.
The cat, scientific name Prionailurus bengalensis, is slightly larger than a domestic cat and has distinctive leopard-like spotted markings.Vietnam lists the animal as a species in danger of extinction and it is illegal to hunt or sell it.
The most important habitat for Black-footed Cats would be extensively managed farmland, especially large game farms where overgrazing is less likely, as native game species are better adapted to arid conditions. Nearly all their habitat is suitable only for stock farming and game ranching, and they are well able to survive on properly managed rangeland. However, overgrazing and periodic fires set to replenish vegetation reduce the number of rodents the cats depend on.
Black-footed Cats are vulnerable to insecticide spray used on locusts, which the cats may eat in masses. Poisoned carcasses and steel-jaw traps are also set out by stockmen to target small livestock predators such as black-backed jackals, caracals and African wildcats. Cats also fall victim to dogs, which are used to chase or dig out jackals during problem animal operations.
Learn more about Black-footed Cats on our website
Help the researchers of the Black-footed Cat Working Group continue this conservation study!