Andean Mountain Cat
The Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita) is a small wild cat. It is one of only two felids for which no subspecies have been classically described (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Fewer than 2500 individuals are thought to exist. This cat is one of about two dozen small wild cats species found around the world. Unlike their larger cousins, such as lions and tigers, with millions of dollars dedicated to conservation efforts, small wild cats like the Andean Mountain Cat have not found a place in the hearts of the public, and conservation efforts exist on shoestring budgets in the thousands.
Its habitat and appearance make it the small cat analog of the Snow Leopard, in that it lives around 3500 4800 m , 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 silvery-gray, striped and spotted long fur. The body length is about 60 cm , the tail length is 42 cm , the shoulder height is 36 cm and the body weight is 5.5 kg . 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 high Andes mountains of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.
There has been a substantial increase in research effort on the Andean Mountain Cat since Nowell and Jackson wrote (1996) 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 . Across its range, it has a very low level of genetic diversity (Cossios and Angers 2007).
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 (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).
While the Andean Mountain Cat's main prey likely is the mountain viscacha, it is also probable that mountain chinchillas previously were important prey of the Andean Mountain Cat before their populations were drastically reduced due to hunting for the fur trade (Villalba et al. 2004). 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. It is often killed in Chile and Bolivia because of local superstition.
Prior to 1998, the only evidence of this cat's existence was two photographs. It was not until then that Jim Sanderson took up his quest to find the Andean Mountain Cat.Tidwell, John. Conservation International. Endangered Cat Still On Prowl. 16 Nov 2005. Online, 28 Feb 2009. http://www.conservation.org/FMG/Articles/Pages/engangered_cat_still_on_prowl.aspx. 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. [*]
Sanderson is still heavily involved with the Andean Cat. With coworkers Constanza Napolitano, Lilian Villalba, and Eliseo Delgado and many others in the Andean Cat Alliance, the Small Cat Conservation Alliance (SCCA) has forged conservation agreements with Fundacion 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.Sanderson, Jim; Villalba, Lillan; Sacred Cat of the Andes. WildCat News - www.cougernet.org. Online. 28 Feb 2009. http://www.gatoandino.org/archivos/Sanderson_Villalba.pdf.
Andean Cat Alliance or the Alianza Gato Andino (AGA). Available in Spanish and English.
Andean Cat Conservation and Monitoring Station is a current project of Jim Sanderson and the SCCA.
(You may search for Andean Cat.) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.