Andean cats (Oreailurus jacobita) inhabit the Andean mountain region of southern Peru and Bolivia to northern Chile and northwestern Argentina. The restricted range of Andean cats may be due to their specialized predation on mountain chinchillas and mountain viscachas, which also have a narrow habitat range in the high Andes mountains.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical
The Andean Cat has only been observed in the wild a few times by scientists (Scrocchi and Halloy 1986, Sanderon 1999, Sorli et al. 2006), and there are few museum specimens (Garcia-Perea 2002), but the number of recent distribution records has greatly increased due to the efforts of the Andean Cat Alliance (www.gatoandino.org), a network of specialist researchers.
Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina
Andean cats weigh only about 4 kg. The fur is thick, measuring 40 to 45 mm on the dorsal surface. Body color is pale silver or ash gray with irregular rust-colored spots. The spots are found in a general vertical line pattern along the body. Conspicuous dark stripes extend from the back down the sides of the animal and gray bars also run across the forelegs and chest. The belly is pale-colored with dark spots. The tail is thick and long with six to nine dark brown rings, the tip may be a pale white color in some individuals. The nose and lips are black with areas of white surrounding the edges of the lips, eyes and sides of the face. Also, dark stripes that start behind each eye meet those that run from the nose to the mouth. The spots on juvenile O. jacobita are more numerous and the rings on their tail are much narrower than an adult. As the cats age, their spot number decreases and the color of their coat also becomes lighter. Sexual dimorphism has not yet been observed. Body length ranges from 577 to 850 mm and the tail is about 70% of the body length at 410 to 485 mm. Their auditory bullae are greatly expanded.
Leopardus jacobitus is commonly mistaken for the pampas cat, Leopardus colocolo, which is also found in the Andean mountains. Pampas cats can be distinguished from Andean mountain cats by their shorter, less tapering tail with fewer rings. The bars on the pelt of pampas cats are black and much more distinct and the base coat is more yellow brown in color than that of Andean mountain cats.
Average mass: 4 kg.
Range length: 577 to 850 mm.
Average length: 661 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
The habitat of this South American cat is very specialized. Andean cats are only known from the arid to semi-arid regions of the high Andes mountains. Preferred habitat is normally above timberline at 3000 to 4000 meters. This habitat is primarily very rocky with scattered bunchgrass, tola bushes, and other small shrubs (Parastrephia phylicaeformis, Tetraglochin alatum, Nassauvia azillaris). They also occur in high mountain grasslands with wet, grassy meadows and various shrubs.
Range elevation: 3000 to 5000 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: mountains
Habitat and Ecology
The Andean Cat is perhaps a solitary species, but may be seen in pairs or with cubs during mating season and after births respectively (Villalba et al. 2004). Mating season, according to local people in Bolivia, is between July and August (Villalba and Bernal 1998); howeve,r is possible that this period is extended until November or December due to small cubs have been observed in October and April (Villalba 2002, E. Delgado pers. comm.). The period between October and March corresponds to the spring and summer season in the southern hemisphere, and during these seasons it is common to record births for other wildlife species and it is the period of major productivity of vegetation (Villalba et al. 2004). Two kittens were seen by Villalba (2002), and what appears to be an older single cub by Sorli et al. (2006).
Most of the reported sightings of Andean Cats have been mainly during daytime; however, current studies on the species through camera traps and observations of a radio-collared Andean Cat indicate that the activity of the species is mainly at night or crepuscular (Villalba 2002, Lucherini et al. 2004, L. Villalba unpublished data). The crepuscular or nocturnal habits of the Andean Cat are likely related with feeding habits of its main prey, the Mountain Vizcacha, which is considered a diurnal and crepuscular species (Galende et al. 1998).
Data on territoriality is absent, however, as occurs with most felids (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002), it is possible that male territories are larger than those of females and that there could be a certain degree of territory overlapping between the sexes. Because the conditions of the Andean Cat habitat are severe and naturally fragmented, it is probable that territory and home ranges are very large; in fact the results of the radio-tracking of a female Andean Cat, between April and December 2004, gave a home range of 65.5 km² (95% minimum convex polygon: L. Villalba unpublished data).
The Andean Cat is a medium-sized felid; from measures of skins the total length in adults varies from 740 to 850 mm and in sub-adults varies from 577 to 600 mm; tail length is from 410 to 485 for adults and 330 to 420 mm for sub-adults. Only two records on the weight are available, the first from a sub-adult specimen from Peru, which weighed 4 kg (Pearson 1957, García-Perea 2002) and the second is from an adult female from Bolivia which weighed 4.5 kg (Delgado et al. 2004).
Andean Cat 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. The tail of the Andean Cat is very characteristic. It is very long (66 - 75% of the head and body length), thick and cylindrical, with a fluffy aspect and with 6 to 9 wide rings of dark brown to black colour (García-Perea 2002). The legs also have dark and narrower blotches or stripes, but they don’t form complete rings.
Apparently the species is not sexually dimorphic in terms of fur color, but comparisons among Andean cat skulls carried out by García-Perea (2002) suggest that sexual dimorphism is present. Differences between juvenile and adult specimens were also found, with juveniles having a lighter coloration and more and smaller blotches (García-Perea 2002). Because of these features, sub-adult or juvenile Andean Cats can be confused much more easily with Pampas Cats (García-Perea 2002).
Andean cats are specialized predators of mountain chinchillas and mountain viscachas. However, these cats may eat reptiles, birds, and other small mammals, such as rabbits, and tuco tucos.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; reptiles
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Andean mountain cats are important predators of mountain viscacha, mountain chinchillas, and possibly other small to medium-sized vertebrate species throughout their range.
There are no known predators of Andean cats. However, this animal does possess a fur color pattern that allows it to blend in with its surrounding habitat. Humans may prey on Andean cats occasionally for their pelts.
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
No communication behaviors between Andean cats have been recorded. Species closely related to Andean cats communicate through mewing and yowls.
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
There is no conclusive information on the lifespan of Andean cats in the wild. The one reported individual that was held in captivity lived for one year. No other biological data was recorded for this species. A closely related species, the pampas cat, has an average life span of nine years in the wild but can reach an age of 16.5 years in captivity. This lifespan information for pampas cats may be similar to Andean mountain cats.
Status: captivity: 1 (high) years.
No information has been documented about the mating system of Andean cats.
There has been no record of the general reproductive behavior of Andean cats due to a very limited number of observations in the wild. Their close relatives, pampas cats (Leopardus colocolo), breed from April to July. The litter size of pampas cats ranges from 1 to 3 kittens and they reach sexual maturity at two years of age. This reproductive information may be similar to that of Andean cats because of their close relationship.
Breeding interval: Andean mountain cats probably breed once yearly.
Breeding season: Breeding season is unknown.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
There is no information available about parental care in Andean cats. However, like most felids, females probably provide all parental care and nurse and care for their young until they reach an age of independence. Most cat species also teach their young to hunt for a period before they disperse from their natal range.
Parental Investment: no parental involvement; altricial ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); extended period of juvenile learning
Leopardus jacobitus is a very rare and elusive cat species. As of 2001, the population size of breeding O. jacobita was estimated to be below 2,500 animals and there are no known subpopulations with more than 250 mature individuals. Leopardus jacobitus is ranked as an endangered animal by the IUCN Red List as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and is listed in Appendix I by CITES. The Andean mountain cat is now protected throughout its geographical range.
In Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia Andean cats are protected against commercialization, trade, and hunting by law. Sometimes considered the least known of the world's cats, Andean cats may be endangered due to habitat deterioration and exploitation by humans for pelts. The declining abundance of their primary prey, mountain chinchillas and mountain viscachas, may have contributed the most to their low population numbers. Chinchillas were once hunted to the brink of extinction and population numbers remain low.
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: appendix i
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
The Andean's cat 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 vizcachas (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).
- 1994Insufficiently Known(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Rare(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Rare(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Rare(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
- 1982Rare(Thornback and Jenkins 1982)
Date Listed: 06/14/1976
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Leopardus jacobitus, see its USFWS Species Profile
The only population estimate available was for a 25,000 ha area in northern Chile, around the Salar de Surire National Monument, where Napolitano et al. (2008) estimated five individuals to occur based on genetic sampling, for a density of one per 5 km².
There are no known Andean Cats in captivity.
The Andean Cat (as well as the pampas cat) is considered a sacred animal according to indigenous Aymara and Quechua traditions. Throughout much of its range, dried and stuffed specimens are kept by local people for use in harvest festivals (Iriarte 1998, Sanderson 1999, Perovic et al. 2003, Villalba et al. 2004, Cossios et al. 2007, Villalba et al. 2008). Hunting for such cultural practices may represent a significant threat to the species. In Argentina's Catamarca province, 69% of people interviewed (n=13) said they had hunted small cats (Perovic et al. 2003).
The Mountain Chinchilla was likely to have been a major prey species for the Andean mountain cat, but the species was hunted nearly to extinction for the fur trade (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Its main prey is now the Mountain Vizcacha (Walker et al. 2007, Napolitano et al. 2008), which lives in patchily distributed small colonies and has also been reduced by hunting pressure. This may result in a highly fragmented distribution for the Andean Cat. Genetic analysis suggests that the Andean Cat had a historic or a currently small population size (Napolitano et al. 2008).
Napolitano et al. (2008) found that Andean Cats were much more dependent on Mountain Vizcachas than sympatric Pampas Cats, which took a wider variety of prey. However, Pampas Cats were more abundant that Andean Cats, even at higher altitudes (Napolitano et al. 2008), and inter-specific competition for Vizcacha prey could negatively impact the Andean Cat (Lucherini and Luengos Vidal 2003, Walker et al. 2007).
Habitat alteration and destruction, mainly by extensive mining, resource extraction for fuel, and to a lesser degree cattle grazing is increasingly affecting its populations in some parts of its range (Villalba et al. 2004).
Hunting by local people who consider the Andean Cat a predator of their small domestic livestock has been frequently reported particularly in some regions of Argentina, Chile and Peru (Iriarte 1998, Cossíos and Madrid 2003, Lucherini et al. 2003). These cats are also killed by dogs accompanying local shepherds. Cossios et al. (2007) also reported the hunting of Andean and Pampas Cats for food and for traditional medicine in central Peru.
Napolitano et al. (2008) found that the probability of finding sign of the Andean Cat decreased with proximity to human settlement.
Cossios and Angers (2007) found that the genetic diversity of Andean Cats was extremely low across their range.
The Andean Cat Conservation Action Plan (Villalba et al. 2004) lists protected areas where Andean Cat presence is confirmed and suspected.
The action plan has six objectives:
To determine the current distribution and relative abundance of Andean Cat populations, and the threats that affect the species and natural ecosystems;
To carry out scientific research to provide basic information on Andean Cat biology and ecology;
To mitigate impacts of human activities on the Andean Cat and natural ecosystems through community education and participation;
To strengthen the management of protected areas where the Andean Cat is present, promote the establishment of new areas or corridors and encourage the development of conservation initiatives in the region;
To promote the implementation and adequacy of conservation legislation and policies regarding the Andean Cat and natural ecosystems; and
To continuously evaluate the actions developed in the implementation of this plan.
The Andean Cat is protected by National Law 22421 of wildlife conservation and its Statutory
Decree 666/97. Also, Resolution N°63/86 of the Secretary of Agriculture.
Along with other wild species of fauna and flora, the Andean Cat is protected by the Supreme
Decree N°22641, promulgated in 1990, which establishes a general and undefined ban for the
pursuit, capture, storing and conditioning of wild animals and its derivative products.
All felid species are fully protected since 1972 by Law N° 19473. The illegal hunting of felines in
Chile is penalized with fines up to US$ 6.000 and imprisonment up to 3 years.
In Peru the Andean Cat is considered a threatened species and its hunting, commerce and
possession (live or dead animals or its parts) is prohibited (Supreme Decree N°013-99-AG,
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no negative impacts of Andean cats.
Pelts of these animals are occasionally seen in South American fur markets but no record of international trade exists for this species.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material
Andean mountain cat
The Andean mountain cat (Leopardus jacobita) is a small wild cat native to the high Andes that has been classified as Endangered by IUCN because less than 2500 individuals are thought to exist in the wild.
The Andean mountain cat has an ashy-gray fur, a gray head, ears and face. The areas around the lips and cheeks are white; two dark brown lines run from the corners of the eyes across the cheeks. There are some black spots on the forelegs, yellowish-brown blotches on the flanks, and up to two narrow, dark rings on the hind limbs. The long bushy tail has 6–9 rings, which are dark brown to black. The markings of juveniles are darker and smaller than of adults. The skulls of adult specimens range in length from 100.4 to 114.8 mm (3.95 to 4.52 in) and are larger than of pampas cat and domestic cat.
The Andean mountain cat has a black nose and lips, and rounded ears. On the back and on the tail, the hair is 40–45 mm (1.6–1.8 in) long. Its rounded footprints are 4 cm (1.6 in) long and 3.5 cm (1.4 in) wide. Its pads are covered with hair.
Adult specimens range from 57.7 to 85 cm (22.7 to 33.5 in) in head-to-body length, with a 41.3 to 48.5 cm (16.3 to 19.1 in) long tail. The shoulder height is about 36 cm (14 in) and body weight is up to 5.5 kilograms (12 lb).
Morphological differences between Andean and pampas cats
The Andean mountain cat and pampas cat look similar. This makes it difficult to identify which cat is observed and makes correct estimations of populations problematic. This can be especially difficult when attempting to gain correct information from the observations of individuals that have seen one of these cats but are not aware to look for specific features to distinguish between the two.
|Andean cat||Trait||Pampas Cat|
|2/3 of the total body length. Thick and blunt with 6–9 wide rings.||Tail||1/2 of the total body length. Thin and tapered with 9 thin rings.|
|Maximum width of rings: 60mm||Tail rings||Maximum width of rings: 20mm|
|Distinctive lines on sides of eyes. Rounded tips of ears.||Facial features||If lines are present, they are brown and less dramatic. Triangular-tipped ears are present for most of this species.|
|Very dark or black||Nose||Light colored, generally pink|
|Yellow– and rust-colored or gray and black||Overall color||Cream, red, rust, and black in color|
|One consistent coat pattern||Coat pattern||Three different coat patterns with different variations|
|Uniform coloration of the base color||Ear color||Patterned colored ears|
|Rings are not complete; stripes are spot-like in appearance||Front paws||Two or more well-defined, complete, black rings|
Distribution and habitat
Andean mountain cats occur only at high elevations in the Andes. Records in Argentina indicate that they live at elevations from 1,800 m (5,900 ft) in the southern Andes to over 4,000 m (13,000 ft) in Chile, Bolivia and central Peru. This terrain is arid, sparsely vegetated, rocky and steep. The population in the Salar de Surire Natural Monument was estimated at five individuals in an area of 250 km2 (97 sq mi). Results of a survey in the Jujuy Province of northwestern Argentina indicates a density of seven to 12 individuals per 100 km2 (39 sq mi) at an elevation of about 4,200 m (13,800 ft).
Andean mountain cats occur localized. Their habitat in the Andes is fragmented by deep valleys, and their preferred prey, mountain viscachas (Lagidium) occur in patchy colonies. Across this range, the level of genetic diversity is very low.
While the Andean mountain cat's main prey is likely the mountain viscacha, it is also probable that mountain chinchillas were previously important prey of the Andean mountain cat before their populations were drastically reduced due to hunting for the fur trade. 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. They are often killed in Chile and Bolivia because of local superstition.
Ecology and behaviour
Competition with other predators
Six different species of carnivores live in the Andes Mountain range. Three of these species are cats, the Andean cat, the pampas cat, and the puma. The puma is a large predator, while the Andean and Pampas Cat are medium-sized predators. These two medium-sized predators are very much alike. They both hunt within the same territory. They hunt the same prey, the mountain viscacia (Lagidium viscacia). The viscacia makes up 93.9% of the biomass consumed in the Andean cat's diet while the Pampas Cat depends on it for 74.8% of its biomass consumption. Both of these cats depend on a specific prey to make up a large portion of their dietary needs. In some areas, the mountain viscacha will make up 53% of the Andean cat's prey items. This is because the other prey items are so significantly smaller that even though the Andean cat will successfully hunt, kill, and eat a mountain viscacha half the time, the mountain viscacha is so much larger than the other food items, it makes up more substance. They also hunt frequently during the same periods. During one study, both the Andean cat and the Pampas Cat were seen most frequently during moonless nights; the second most sightings of these cats were during full moons. These two cats both hunt the same prey, making it more difficult for them to find food, essentially creating a race to find the prey before the other does.
By using the residents' observations of Andean cats in coupled pairs with their litters, it is theorized that the mating season for the Andean cat is within the months of July and August. Because kittens have been seen in the months of April and October, this could mean that the mating season extends into November or even December. A litter will usually consist of one or two offspring born in the spring and summer months. This is common with many other species that also have their young when food resources are increasing.
In 2002 the status of the Andean cat was moved from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Due to the Andean cat's habitat being spread across four countries, biologists have attempted to collaborate in efforts to protect the species. One of the groups formed was the Andean Cat Conservation Committee, now known as the Andean Cat Alliance. The table below was taken directly from the most current strategy plan for 2011-2016.
|Priority||Direct Threat||Indirect Threat||Intervention|
|1||Habitat Loss||Various forms of land use including mining, and water extraction, potentially increased by climate change.||Creation of protected areas and consolidation or improvement of existing ones; obeying with government and the industry sector; implementation of existing legislation; involvement of local communities on conservation and land use decisions; research on desertification processes affecting the Andean cat.|
|2||Habitat degradation||Inappropriate pastoralist and agricultural practices; unregulated tourism; mining, oil/gas extraction; unregulated use of water.||Working with communities to improve livestock management; lobbying with governments, industries and local communities to regulate tourist activities; implementation of existing legislation; implementation of water management plans when existing; research on the impacts of habitat degradation on Andean Cat population.|
|3||Opportunistic/Palliative Hunting||Conflicting with small livestock breeding; lack of knowledge of the species by local community member; presence of dogs, incidental capture||Conflict mitigation, community education, implementation of existing legislation; research on the most effective methods to mitigate conflicts and improvement of perception of the species by local people.|
|4||Traditional Hunting||Religious use of skins or taxidermy, hunting due to traditional beliefs||Community education; rekindling of traditional knowledge.|
|5||Reduction of prey populations||Hunting, presence of domestic dogs||Community education; implementation of existing legislation; research on predator-prey dynamics|
|6||Introduction of diseases||Dogs and cats as reservoirs and/or vectors||Research to determine the true extent of this threat|
|7||Hybridization||Sympatric with phylogenetically related species (L. colocolo)||Research to determine the true extent of this threat.|
The Andean cat's habitat spans four different South American countries. Each country has made individual laws to protect this wild cat. Each country also has its own protected game areas where hunting is prohibited. The table below outlines the number of the protected areas that fall within the Andean cat's habitat. Biologists are attempting to determine if any of these protected areas house significant populations of Andean cats.
|Country||Law or policy||Protection offered||Year enacted||Number of protected areas||Sightings within protected areas||Unevaluated areas|
|Argentina||National Law 22421 of Wildlife Conservation||Prohibits hunting and/or trade of the Andean cat||Unknown year||9 protected areas||Evidence found in 7 areas||1 unevaluated, 1 partial|
|Statutory Decree 666/97|
|Resolution N' 63/86 of the Secretary of Agriculture|
|Bolivia||Decree N'22421||General and undefined ban on hunting, capture, storage, and/or conditioning of wild animals and their by-products.||1990||8 protected areas||Evidence found in 6 areas||2 areas unevaluated|
|Chile||Law N'19473||Ban on hunting all felids, with penalties of up to $6,000 fine and/or imprisonment up to 3 years.||1972||7 protected areas||Evidence found in 7 areas||All areas evaluated|
|Peru||Supreme Decree N'013-99-AG||Ban on hunting, trading, and possession of living, dead, or body parts of the Andean cat||1999||12 protected areas||Evidence found in 4 areas||8 areas unevaluated|
Prior to 1998, the only evidence of this cat's existence was two photographs. It was then that Jim Sanderson took up his quest to find the Andean mountain cat. 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 involved with the Andean cat. Together with Constanza Napolitano, Lilian Villalba, and Eliseo Delgado and others in the Andean Cat Alliance, the Small Cat Conservation Alliance has forged conservation agreements with Fundación 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.
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