Animal Info - Kodkod

(Other Names: Chat du Chili, Chilean Cat, Chilenische Waldkatze, Guigna, Güiña, Nachtkatze)

Oncifelis guigna (Leopardus g.)

Status: Vulnerable


Contents

1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Taxonomy, Population Estimates, Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Size and Weight, Habitat, Gestation Period, Birth Season, Birth Rate, Maximum Age, Diet, Behavior, Social Organization, Age and Gender Distribution, Density and Range)
5. References


Profile

Pictures:  Kodkod #1 (4 Kb JPEG) (Tiger Terr.); Kodkod #2 (20 Kb JPEG) (Felipex); Kodkod #3 (30 Kb JPEG) (Wild Fel.); Kodkod #4 (Cat with an Attitude!) (49 Kb JPEG) (Cat Survival Trust); Kodkod #5 (91 Kb JPEG) (Cat Act. Treas.) 

The kodkod is one of the smallest cat species, with a head and body length of up to 50 cm (20") and a weight of 1.5 - 3 kg (3.3 - 6.6 lb).  The kodkod’s buff or gray-brown coat is heavily marked with small, round black spots. The spots on its head and neck sometimes form broken streaks. Its tail is short, bushy, and marked with a series of narrow black bands. The kodkod is generally associated with forested regions, where it selects structured habitats such as thicket-forest and thicket for its home range. It has also been observed in fragmented, human-dominated landscapes.

Small mammals comprise the majority of the kodkod's prey. Birds are also eaten frequently. Kodkods that live near agricultural areas also occasionally eat domestic chickens and geese. The kodkod appears to have a mix of arboreal and terrestrial lifestyles. On the one hand, the kodkod climbs trees with ease and is seen on tree branches resting or escaping from danger. On the other hand, radio-tracked kodkods have also been found to rest in ground-level vegetation rather than in trees. Furthermore, studies have found that terrestrial mammal species represent the majority of the kodkod's prey. The social system of the kodkod varies. In one area, high levels of home range and core area overlap among neighboring kodkods of both sexes were found, indicating a lack of territorial behavior. However, in another, dissimilar area, male home ranges did not overlap each other; female home ranges did not overlap each other; and males appeared to patrol their home range boundaries actively, indicating the presence of territorial behavior.

The kodkod is found in the central and southern regions of Chile and in a small area of the eastern slope of the Andes in Argentina. The kodkod has historically been described as quite common. However, in central Chile, which is home to two-thirds of the kodkod’s population, habitat loss has led to localized and patchy distribution. In general, the southern forested part of its range is well protected and sparsely populated by people. 

Because of its restricted distribution, the kodkod is particularly vulnerable to habitat loss. Population fragmentation and localized decline in the northern half of its range have been attributed to logging and deforestation by burning for agricultural development. The kodkod also faces persecution as a pest species in agricultural areas, where it preys on domestic fowl. Illegal commerce in kodkod pelts appears uncommon. However, the tails and pelts of kodkods are used as decorations on cars. The cats are also unintentionally killed by wire snares set by hunters to catch rabbits, as well as by the dogs used to hunt rabbits.


Tidbits

*** Cat Tidbit #6: Of all their senses, cats probably depend most on vision to help them capture prey (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002). (See Cat Tidbit #7.)

*** Which cat species is the smallest is still open to discussion, with the black-footed cat, kodkod, and rusty-spotted cat all candidates for the title (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002).

*** The word "kodkod" is the Araucanian Indian name for this cat (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002).

*** Despite its role as a predator of rodents, the kodkod still has a poor reputation in many agricultural areas. Much folklore surrounds the cat; e.g., a common belief in some areas is that kodkods are vampires that drain the blood of their prey. (Freer 2004)


Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

[The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature; also called the World Conservation Union) is the world’s largest conservation organization. Its members include countries, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations.  The IUCN determines the worldwide status of threatened animals and publishes the status in its Red List.]

  • 1994: Indeterminate
  • 1996 - 2001: Vulnerable
  • 2002 - 2005: Vulnerable (Criteria: C2a(i)) (Population Trend: Decreasing) (IUCN 2005) 

Countries Where the Kodkod Is Currently Found:

2005: Occurs in Argentina and Chile. (IUCN 2005)

Taxonomy:

Recent genetic analyses have lead to the proposal that all modern cats can be placed into eight lineages which originated between 6.2 - 10.8 million years ago. The kodkod is placed in the "ocelot lineage," which diverged from its ancestors as a separate lineage 8.0 million years ago. The ocelot lineage also includes the ocelot, the margay, the Andean cat, the pampas cat, Geoffroy's cat, and the tigrina. (Johnson et al. 2006)

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]

Distribution:

The geographic distribution of the kodkod is limited to an area of Argentina and Chile of about 160,000 sq km (62,000 sq mi), extending from approximately 70E - 75E deg W and from 30E - 48E S. In Chile it is found in the central and southern regions, from Santiago Province south to the islands of Chiloé and the Guaitecas; in Argentina it is confined to a small area of the eastern slope of the Andes, in the provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut, and Santa Cruz. (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002, Freer 2004)

The kodkod has historically been described as quite common. However, in the dry scrub of central Chile, which amounts to 10% of the country’s area but which is home to two-thirds of the kodkod’s population, habitat loss has led to localized and patchy distribution. In general, the southern forested part of its range is well protected and sparsely populated by people. Even where its habitat has been altered, such as in central Chile, where 15,000 sq km (6000 sq mi) of pine and eucalyptus plantations have been established, kodkods may do well since rodent populations thrive there. (Nowell & Jackson 1996)

In some respects the kodkod’s natural history appears encouraging for long-term population persistence. It is able to exist within even substantially modified habitats as long as sufficient dense vegetation remains for hunting and cover. Small mammals and birds, its staple prey, are almost ubiquitous. Finally, in high quality habitat the kodkod has very modest area requirements and can achieve high population densities. (Freer 2004)

Distribution Map (2 Kb GIF) (Big Cats Online)

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

Because of its restricted distribution, the kodkod is particularly vulnerable to habitat loss, the primary cause of reduced numbers in the north of its range. Population fragmentation and localized decline in the northern half of its range have been attributed to logging and deforestation by burning for agricultural development. (Nowell & Jackson 1996, Freer 2004)

Agricultural encroachment into the habitat of the kodkod has resulted in male cats encountering and killing free-ranging domestic chickens and geese that entered the cats' home ranges. Farmers have killed several kodkods in a single day following predation by the cats on domestic fowl. The kodkod thus faces persecution as a pest species. (Sanderson et al. 2002, Freer 2004)

Illegal commerce in kodkod pelts appears uncommon (Freer 2004). However, the tails and pelts of kodkods are used as decorations on cars. The cats are also unintentionally killed by wire snares set by hunters to catch rabbits, as well as by the dogs used to hunt rabbits. (Brito & Elgueta 2003)


Data on Biology and Ecology

Size and Weight:

The kodkod's head and body length is: females: 38 - 51 cm (avg 42 cm) (15 - 20" (avg 16.5")) (n = 9); males: 42 - 49 cm (avg 45 cm) (16.5 - 19" (avg 18")) (n = 12). The kodkod weighs: females: 1.3 - 1.7 kg (avg 1.5 kg) (2.9 - 3.7 lb (avg 3.3 lb)) (n = 5); males: 1.7 - 3.0 kg (avg 2.3 kg) (3.7 - 6.6 lb (avg 5.1 lb)) (n = 6). (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)

Habitat:

The kodkod has been observed in highly fragmented, human-dominated landscapes (Sanderson et al. 2002), but in terms of habitat selection at the largest scale, the kodkod has generally been associated with Chile's Valdivian Forest ecoregion (characterized by beech trees) and the Valdivian-like montane forest of Argentina. These regions include extensive areas of forest habitat but also include other types of habitat at smaller scales, such as scrub, thicket, thicket-forest, rock, and open areas. Recent studies of the spatial ecology of the kodkod in two areas of southern Chile, Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael and Parque Nacional Quelat, have revealed that at finer scales of habitat selection, the kodkod actually prefers several of these other habitats, which are situated within the forest region, as opposed to forest habitat itself. Specifically, radio-tracking studies showed that at the intermediate scale of habitat selection, the kodkod selectively incorporated the relatively dense and complexly structured thicket-forest and thicket habitats into its home range more than it did the forested areas. At the finest scale of habitat selection, the cats actually spent the largest amount of time in thicket-forest. (Dunstone et al. 2002, Freer 2004)

Although food availability has been documented in previous studies of carnivores as a major determinant of habitat selection, studies of the distributions of small mammal prey in the study regions referred to above found that there were no more prey animals in the thicket-forest habitat than in other types of habitat nearby. It was hypothesized that the preference for thicket-forest arose because this habitat offers better concealment for the cats when they are stalking their prey. (Freer 2004)

Analysis of the distribution of the different types of habitat in the portion of the kodkod’s distribution in southern Chile showed that the most suitable habitats described above occupy only about 5% of the total area, and that they are relatively isolated from one another. Thus the kodkod preferentially utilizes a naturally fragmented and relatively uncommon component of the landscape. (Freer 2004

The kodkod occurs up to the tree line (generally 1900 - 2500 m (6200 - 8200‘) elevation (although towards the southern limit of its distribution the tree line can be as low as 500 m (1600‘)). It usually avoids farm fields, pastures, orchards and other open areas, as well as areas with short vegetation. The kodkod uses vegetated ravines as travel corridors between patches of preferred habitat and does not seem to mind traveling distances more than 100 m (330‘) across open areas or crossing roads to reach a patch of preferred habitat. It is relatively tolerant of altered habitats, being found in secondary forest and shrub as well as primary forest, and on the fringes of settled and cultivated areas. (Mazzolli 2000, Dunstone et al. 2002, Sanderson et al. 2002, Freer 2004, IUCN 2005)

The kodkod is found in the Chilean Winter Rainfall - Valdivian Forests Biodiversity Hotspot (Cons. Intl. 2005).  

Gestation Period:

72 - 78 days (Freer 2004).

Birth Season:

Mating in southern Chile probably occurs in the early spring, centering on August and September (Freer 2004).  Births probably occur in late October - early November (Dunstone et al. 2002).

Birth Rate:

1 - 4 young kodkods are born in a litter (Nowak 1999).

Maximum Age:

Up to 11 years (captivity) (Freer 2004).

Diet:

In a study based on scat samples from kodkods, rodents (e.g. small, medium and large mice and rice rats) and a small marsupial were found to comprise about 70% of all prey identified. Birds were also eaten frequently and represented about 20% of all prey items identified. Carrion, invertebrates and vegetation occurred relatively infrequently in the diet. (Freer 2004) Other reports generally list the same prey, with the occasional addition of lizards and domestic chickens and geese (Sanderson et al. 2002).

Behavior:

Although it is considered an agile climber, the degree to which the kodkod is arboreal or terrestrial has not been determined. On the one hand, the kodkod climbs trees larger than 8 cm (3") in diameter (including trees more than 1 m (3.3') in diameter) with ease. Kodkods found on tree branches appear to be resting or escaping from perceived danger such as domestic dogs. Tree branches on the steep sides of ravines are used to stalk prey such as lizards. On the other hand, individuals radio-tracked in a study on Chiloé Island, Chile, rested at night in thick piles of ground-level vegetation. During the day they were most likely to utilize dense vegetation along ravines and streams for cover, or to rest under bushes and logged forest brush piles, rather than to utilize trees. Furthermore, in studies at two locations in southern Chile, small mammal species characterized as terrestrial represented 61% of small mammal prey items identified at one study site and 71% of those at the other study site. Arboreal species represented only 26% and 8% respectively. (Sanderson et al. 2002, Sunquist & Sunquist 2002, Freer 2004) 

Two studies involving radio-tracking of kodkods showed that the cats were as likely to be active during the day as during the night (Sanderson et al. 2002, Freer 2004), although they preyed predominantly on nocturnal species (Freer 2004). The studies also found that there was a slight increase in frequency and speed of movement at dusk (Freer 2004) and that there were dips in activity from 0100 - 0400, 0800 - 1200, and 1500 - 1900 (Sanderson et al. 2002). In southern Chile, in general the cats were active for approximately 12 hours each day.  Bouts of active and inactive behavior during periods of continuous radio-tracking were often relatively short. Most bouts lasted less than 3 hours. (Freer 2004)

In a study in two locations in southern Chile, the straight-line distance (net daily movement) moved by radio-collared kodkods between the first radio-tracked locations recorded on consecutive days varied from 0.01 - 1.83 km (0.006 - 1.13 mi). The average net daily movement was 0.56 km (0.35 mi), equivalent to approximately 30% of the maximum home range width. Most net daily movements were less than 1 km (0.6 mi). Actual distances traveled over a 24-hr period varied from 1.21 - 9.00 km (0.75 - 5.6 mi). The average actual daily distance traveled was 4.3 km (2.7 mi). The general pattern of kodkod movement within the two study sites was one of relatively slow movement within localized areas, interspersed with comparatively faster and more linearly directed movement between these patches, plus frequent short bouts of inactivity. (Freer 2004)  

In a study on Chiloé Island off of the coast of Chile, radio-collared female kodkods were sedentary. In contrast, males constantly moved about their home ranges, presumably marking their boundaries and visiting females. Male kodkods sometimes moved across their home ranges in a single day. Males expanded their home ranges when competitors disappeared. (Sanderson et al. 2002)  

Social Organization:

In the study of kodkods within two apparently high-density populations in southern Chile, adjacent kodkod home ranges were found to overlap considerably, both within and between the sexes. Areas of core use also overlapped extensively. The analysis of spatial-temporal relationships between individual cats indicated that almost all of these relationships were either positive, implying some attraction between animals, or neutral, implying that the movement of a pair was random with respect to one other. No avoidance of neighboring core areas was apparent; no patrolling of home range boundaries was evident; and instances of aggressive encounter were rare. This apparent social tolerance is highly unusual among small felids. (Freer 2004)  

The situation was different on Chiloé Island, where home ranges of male kodkods were exclusive of those of other males and home ranges of female kodkods were exclusive of those of other females (However, the home ranges of males overlapped the home ranges of females.). Radio-tracked males appeared to patrol their home range boundaries actively. (Sanderson et al. 2002) It should be noted that the kodkods on Chiloé Island inhabit a human-modified environment within an agricultural region - a study area that was very different from the beech forest prevalent in the study area in southern Chile (Freer 2004).

A detailed analysis of the habitat use by individual kodkods was performed in the study in southern Chile.  Variation in habitat preference between individual cats was apparent. Most habitat types were used more frequently than expected (i.e. on the basis of the percent of area covered by that habitat) by at least one of the cats. To the extent that different cats preferred to use different portions of the areas where they coexisted, this facilitated extensive home ranges overlap while allowing spatial separation. (Dunstone et al. 2002)

Age and Gender Distribution:

The study in southern Chile found that the number of adult animals was similar to that of subadults and males were more numerous than females (Freer 2004).

Density and Range:

Density

During the study in southern Chile, the density of adult kodkods each season ranged between 0.15 and 0.62 individuals/sq km (0.39 - 1.6/sq mi) in Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael  and between 0.87 and 2.7 individuals/sq km (2.3 - 7.0/sq mi) in Parque Nacional Quelat. The density of subadult animals throughout the study period varied between 0.30 - 0.45 individuals/sq km (0.78 - 1.2/sq mi) in Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael and between 0.87 - 1.8 individuals/sq km (2.3 - 4.7/sq mi) in Parque Nacional Quelat. (Freer 2004).

Range

The study on Chiloé Island took place exclusively on human-dominated private lands at 2 sites. One was a highly fragmented, human-dominated landscape with some forest and the other a contiguous forest with fewer human impacts. The home ranges of females on Chiloé did not overlap with human dwellings, whereas the home range of 1 male contained more than 20 occupied human homes. In the fragmented landscape, 2 males had home range sizes of 3.4 and 3.7 sq km (1.3 and 1.4 sq mi) and 2 females had home range sizes of 0.85 and 1.7 sq km (0.33 and 0.65 sq mi). In the contiguous landscape, 2 males had home range sizes of 1.8 and 22 sq km (0.67 and 8.5 sq mi). (Sanderson et al. 2002)  

The results of the study in southern Chile showed that home range sizes varied from 0.43 - 2.6 sq km (0.17 - 1.0 sq mi). Adults utilized larger home ranges than subadults (adults' avg = 1.3 sq km (0.5 sq mi); subadults' avg = 0.99 sq km (0.38 sq mi)) and the home ranges of males were more extensive than those of females (males' avg = 1.3 sq km (0.5 sq mi); females' avg = 0.96 sq km (0.37 sq mi)). Home range locations varied little during the time of the study, indicating that the home ranges of resident kodkods may be stable across multiple years. Radio-tracked animals did not visit all areas of their home ranges on a regular basis. (Freer 2004)


References

Acosta-Jamett et al. 2003, Big Cats Online, Brito & Elgueta 2003, Cat Act. Treas., Cat Survival Trust, Cons. Intl. 2005, Dunstone et al. 2002, Felipex, Freer 2004, IUCN 2005, IUCN Cat Spec. Gr., Johnson et al. 2006, Mazzolli 2000, Nowak 1999, Nowell & Jackson 1996, Sanderson et al. 2002, Sunquist & Sunquist 2002, Tiger Terr., Wild Fel.


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