Animal Info - Andean Cat

(Other Names: Altiplánico, Andean Highland Cat, Andean Mountain Cat, Andenkatze, Bergkatze, Chat des Andes, Chinchay, Gato Andino, Gato Chacra, Gato Lince, Gato Montés, Gato Montés Andino, Gato Montés Altiplánico, Gato de las Peñas, Gato Rayado, Gato Zonzo, Hualpasua, Huaña Titi, Misi, Mountain Cat, Oscalla, Oscollo, Osjo, Titi, Titimayu, Titimisi)

Oreailurus jacobita (Leopardus j., Felis j.)

Status: Endangered


Contents

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


Profile

Pictures: Andean Cat #1 (15 Kb JPEG) (Big Cats Online); Andean Cat #2 (23 Kb JPEG) (IUCN Cat Spec. Gr.); Andean Cat #3 (62 Kb JPEG) (Terrambiente); Andean Cat #4 (95 Kb JPEG) (Cat Act. Treas.); Andean Cat #5 (99 Kb JPEG) (Cat Act. Treas.) 

Mountain Viscacha (Lagidium peruanum) (24 Kb JPEG) (Anim. Div. Web)

The Andean cat is about the size of a large house cat. Its head and body length is 58 - 85 cm (23 - 33"). A male weighed 4.0 kg (9 lb), and a female weighed 4.5 kg (10 lb). Its fur is long, soft and thick. It is mainly ash grey with brown-yellowish blotches that are distributed as vertical lines on both sides of the body, giving the appearance of continuous stripes. The Andean cat's nose is black, and its belly is pale with dark spots. Its tail is very long and is probably an aid to balance when the cat is chasing chinchillas and mountain viscachas as they leap around the rocky habitat. The tail is fluffy and cylindrical, with 6 - 9 wide rings of dark brown to black color. The legs also have dark and narrower blotches or stripes, but they do not form complete rings. 

The Andean cat is highly specialized in its habitat requirements, usually being found at high elevations (3500 - 4800 m (11,500 - 15,700‘)) in the dry, rocky regions of the high Andes above the timberline. Vegetation consists mainly of scattered dwarf shrubs and clumps of bunchgrass. The presence of rock piles and boulders may be important for the Andean cat.  The presence of free water is probably also important, as is the presence of mountain viscachas.

The Andean cat’s main prey likely is the mountain viscacha. The mountain chinchilla was probably also an important prey species until its populations were decimated as a result of the international fur trade. Reported sightings and radio-tracking data have indicated that the cat may be active at various times during the day and night. 

 The Andean cat occurs in southern Peru, the highlands of Bolivia, northern Chile, and northwestern Argentina. It is distributed over 620,000 sq km (240,000 sq mi) in these four countries, but intensive field surveys in all 4 countries have led biologists to believe that the Andean cat’s distribution is likely highly fragmented and that this cat is very rare. There are very few records concerning its past distribution and the areas where it was previously recorded generally coincide with those where the presence of the species has been recently verified.

The principal threats that the Andean cat faces are: reduction of populations of its principal prey species, hunting and persecution by humans, and habitat degradation.


Tidbits

*** Cat Tidbit #7: Cats have extensive peripheral vision, which, strangely enough, may be partially responsible for their reputation for aloofness. Because its peripheral vision is so good, a resting cat focuses its eyes infrequently. The result is the cat’s typical wide-eyed, staring-into-space look that some people find so unsettling. (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002) (See Cat Tidbit #8.)

*** "In 1998, in the Sala de Surire National Park in Chile, near the Chilean/Bolivian border, I observed and video-taped an adult male Andean cat. My observations confirm previous reports that the Andean cat seems without fear of people. Indeed, during video-taping from a distance of 10 m (33') he stretched, yawned, sprayed a rock and then slept for 12 minutes before resuming his search through a mountain viscacha colony." (Sanderson 1999)

*** Etymology of the scientific name of the Andean cat: the genus name ("Oreailurus")  - comes from the Greek ‘oreos’ for 'mountain' and ‘ailurus’ for 'cat'; the species name ("jacobita") - in honor of Jacobita Mantegazza (Yensen & Seymour 2000).


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.]

  • 1986 - 1990: Rare
  • 1994: Insufficiently Known
  • 1996: Vulnerable
  • 2002 - 2005: Endangered; (Criteria: C2a(i)) (Population Trend: Decreasing) (IUCN 2005) 

Countries Where the Andean Cat Is Currently Found:

2005: Occurs in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru (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 Andean cat 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 kodkod, the pampas cat, Geoffroy's cat, and the tigrina. (Johnson et al. 2006)

Population Estimates:

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

History of Distribution:

The Andean cat occurs in southern Peru, the highlands of Bolivia, northern Chile, and northwestern Argentina. It is distributed over 620,000 sq km (240,000 sq mi) in these four countries, but intensive field surveys in all 4 range countries have led biologists to believe that the Andean cat’s distribution is likely highly fragmented and that this cat is very rare. The Andean cat is highly specialized to regions of high elevation in the Andes. There are very few records concerning its past distribution and the areas where it was previously recorded generally coincide with those where the presence of the species has been recently verified. (Villalba et al. 2004, IUCN 2005)

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

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

The principal threats that the species faces are: 1) reduction of populations of its principal prey species, 2) hunting and persecution by humans, and 3) habitat degradation (Villalba et al. 2004, Lucherini et al. 2005):

1) Loss of Prey - This can be attributed to several factors, including: a) hunting of prey by people of the region - principally hunting of mountain viscachas for meat, which is consumed at the local level, or for the skin, which is sold; b) competition between mountain viscachas and domestic animals whose grazing areas overlap with feeding areas of mountain viscachas; and c) competition between mountain viscachas and exotic species - especially the European hare, which was initially introduced in Argentina and is currently found throughout the four countries where the Andean cat occurs. (Villalba et al. 2004) In addition, it is likely that the mountain chinchilla previously constituted important prey for the Andean cat, but the chinchilla was hunted nearly to extinction to supply the fur trade (IUCN 2005).

2) Hunting/Persecution - This occurs for several reasons: a) use in traditional ceremonies: A common tradition is the use of an Andean cat skin or a stuffed cat during ceremonies that are performed for marking domestic livestock, mainly llamas or alpacas. Ancient beliefs hold that Andean cat skins, when used during religious ceremonies, bestow good fortune and ensure bountiful crops and productive livestock. b) persecution: The Andean cat is not considered a threat to domestic llamas or alpacas, but in some regions, it is killed because it is considered to be a threat to smaller domestic animals, such as sheep, goats and fowl, or to humans. c) sport hunting: Some native people hunt carnivores and other species for sport. (Villalba et al. 2004)

3) Habitat Degradation - a) In the high Andean region, the main economic activity is the breeding of domestic llamas and alpacas as well as introduced animals like sheep and goats. There are some areas with high levels of overgrazing, and this affects the cat’s herbivorous prey. b) The extraction of certain plant species, which are used as fuel and/or construction material, has had a significant impact. c) These areas are rich in mineral resources. Mining is carried out by some local communities, but is mainly an activity of trans-national or national companies. This land use has more impact on Andean cat habitat (due to contamination, resource extraction for fuel, hunting of the Andean cat's prey, and general habitat disturbance) than do traditional uses. (Villalba et al. 2004)


Data on Biology and Ecology

Size and Weight:

The head and body length of the Andean cat is 58 - 85 cm (23 - 33") (n = 5) (Yensen & Seymour 2000). A male from Peru weighed 4.0 kg (8.8 lb) (Yensen & Seymour 2000), and a female from Bolivia weighed 4.5 kg (9.9 lb) (Villalba et al. 2004).

Habitat:

The Andean cat is apparently very specialized in its habitat requirements, until recently being found only in the rocky arid and semi-arid zones of the high Andes above the timberline (at an elevation of 3500 - 4800 m (11,500 - 15,700‘)). (Two Andean cats have been identified at 1800 m (5900') elevation in Mendoza Province, Argentina (Sorli et al. 2006).) Vegetation at observation and collection sites has consisted mainly of scattered dwarf shrubs and clumps of bunchgrass. The presence of rock piles and boulders (typical micro-habitat of mountain viscachas, and the only type of cover available at such altitudes) may be important. The Andean cat’s habitat is characterized by the presence of steep rocky valleys and rocky tableau and by average annual temperatures that vary between 0 and 4E C (32 - 39E F), frequent freezes, intense solar radiation, large daily thermal variations and low precipitation (less than 100 - 800 mm (4 - 30") annually). The presence of free water is probably an important factor for the Andean cat, as is the presence of mountain viscachas. (Nowell & Jackson 1996, Villalba & Bernal 2002, Villalba et al. 2004, IUCN 2005)

Below are descriptions of several specific site where individual Andean cats were observed (Yensen & Seymour 2000):

  • In Peru, a male was trapped at 4,725 m (15,500') among rock outcrops with bare ground, scattered grass and bushes.
  • In Argentina, an individual was observed at 4,250 m (13,900') in an area dominated by grasses and small shrubs, with wet and grassy meadows, and a small lake.
  • Two specimens from 4,550 and 4,700 m (14,900 - 15,400') in Bolivia were from an open shrubland on rocky slopes, with wet meadows along arroyos, and open grassland.

The Andean cat is found in the Chilean Winter Rainfall - Valdivian Forests and Tropical Andes Biodiversity Hotspots (Cons. Intl. 2005).  

Birth Season:

The Andean cat’s birth season probably occurs between October and April, with mating season possibly extended until November or December. The period between October and March corresponds to the spring and summer seasons in the southern hemisphere. These seasons are the period of major productivity of vegetation, and it is common for births of other wildlife species to occur during this period as well. (Villalba et al. 2004)

Birth Rate:

The average size of Andean cat litters is not known, but on two occasions at different locations, 2 cubs have been observed (Villalba et al. 2004).

Diet:

The Andean cat’s main prey likely is the mountain viscacha. It is also probable that mountain chinchillas previously were important prey of the Andean cat before their populations were drastically reduced due to hunting for the fur trade (Villalba et al. 2004). The Andean cat's diet may include other species, such as birds and other small rodents, but there is no information on this as of yet (Arkive 2005).

Behavior:

Activity - Although reported sightings have mainly been during daytime, it is possible that the Andean cat is mostly crepuscular or nocturnal and that its diurnal activity is more reduced or limited to certain periods of the year. Current reports on this species from the field indicate that activity is primarily at early hours of the morning or after dusk. Recently, preliminary observations of a radio-collared Andean cat indicated activity mainly at night. (Villalba et al. 2004)

Balance - The long tail of the Andean cat is probably an aid to balance when chasing chinchillas and mountain viscachas. Both are "ricochettal" rodents: their strategy to escape predators involves making unpredictable changes of direction by bounding off rock faces. (Nowell & Jackson 1996)

Hearing - The Andean cat has an acute sense of hearing, due to its well developed ear drums, and this may assist in hunting. This adaptation is typical of animals that inhabit arid environments where the sense of smell is not as useful for hunting as in more humid environments. (Arkive 2005)

Denning - The Andean cat may den in small caves (Villalba 2002).

Social Organization:

The Andean cat is perhaps a solitary species, but adults may be seen in pairs or with cubs during mating season and after births, respectively (Villalba et al. 2004).


References

Anim. Div. Web, Arkive 2005, Big Cats Online, Cat Act. Treas., Cons. Intl. 2005, IUCN 2005, IUCN Cat Spec. Gr., Johnson et al. 2006, Lucherini et al. 2005, Nowell & Jackson 1996, Sanderson 1999, Sorli et al. 2006, Sunquist & Sunquist 2002, TerrambienteVillalba 2002, Villalba & Bernal 2002, Villalba et al. 2004, Yensen & Seymour 2000


Top of Page | Search This Site

Home | Rarest Mammals | Species Index | Species Groups Index | Country Index | Links


Last modified: August 4, 2006;

© 1999 - 2014 Animal Info. Endangered animals of the world. SJ Contact Us.