Facts About the Endangered Andean Mountain Cat You Should Know

Fact about Andean mountain cats
Among wild cats, the Andean mountain cat is one of the least well-known, in part due to its small population and endangered status. There are no Andean mountain cats in captivity, and only a few people have ever seen them in the wild. Read on to learn more about this mysterious feline.
A Mysterious Wild Cat
Among wild cats, the most well-known are probably lions, tigers, and cheetahs. Others, like mountain lions and jaguars, are also popular. Then there are lesser known wild cats, including the serval and the ocelot. These cats are smaller than the more famous big cats, which might account for their comparative obscurity. Still other species of wild cats are virtually unknown among the general public, like the margay and the sand cat.
However, wild cat experts and scientists know quite a bit about these species. But one cat that remains a mystery to both the public and to science is the Andean mountain cat. Accurate data about their range, habitat, behavior, reproduction, and lifestyle is extremely difficult to obtain because they are not easy to observe and keep track of. Hence, most of the data that is currently available is ambiguous.
Classification
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Felidae
  • Genus: Leopardus
  • Species: L. jacobita
Appearance
  • Weight: 5-6 kilograms
  • Height: 14 inches at the shoulder
  • Body Length: 22-26 inches
  • Tail: 16-20 inches long
Characteristic features include:
In appearance, Andean mountain cats are approximately the same size as a domestic cat with some distinct features.
  • Silvery-grey coat with many dark spots and stripes. White underside
  • A thicker and longer tail compared to domestic cats
  • Black rings on limbs and tails.
  • Dark stripes at the sides of their eyes
  • Wide-set ears with rounded tips
  • Very dark/black noses which can help distinguish them from Pampas cats
All these characteristics are more prominent in juveniles than in adults.
Limited Range and Paltry Population
  • Native to: High Andes of South America
  • Approximate Range:
  • Current Population: Less than 2,500
These cats are so rare that there have only been a limited number of sightings in the wild, making knowledge of their range difficult. It is thought that there may be fewer than 2,500 Andean mountain cats living in the wild, but their scarcity makes it difficult to obtain a precise count. At any rate, regional populations are very small, which, combined with their limited range, indicates a limited total population.
Protecting an Endangered Species
IUCN Status: Endangered

The IUCN changed the status of the Andean Cat in 2002, from vulnerable to endangered.
Although the reasons for the small population of the Andean mountain cat are not precisely understood, it is clear that their population is declining due to a number of factors.
  • Loss of habitat affecting their prey is one big reason. The cats primarily eat southern viscachas (small rodents related to chinchillas) and mountain chinchillas. Mountain chinchillas have now become scarce since they are being hunted for their fur. So the Andean mountain cat's food supply is depleting.
  • Andean mountain cats themselves are sometimes hunted for superstitious and ritual purposes by locals, which contributes to their endangered status.
  • In addition to human-caused problems, competition with other wild cats also limits the population of the Andes mountain cats. The pampas cat is closely related to the Andes mountain cat, and these two species compete for the same prey in the same area.
  • Domesticated dogs also contribute to the reduction of food supply by hunting and killing viscachas and chinchillas.
These illegal practices continue despite legal bans on hunting of Andean cats in all four Andean countries.
Laws to Protect the Andean Cat
  • Argentina:
    • National Law 22421 of Wildlife Conservation
    • Resolution N' 63/86 of the Secretary of Agriculture
    • Statutory Decree 666/97
  • Bolivia: Decree N'22421
  • Chile: Law N'19473
  • Peru: Supreme Decree N'013-99-AG
The law in Argentina prohibits the hunting and trade of Andean cats. The Bolivian law has banned the hunting, capture, storage, or conditioning of these animals and their by-products. The law passed in Chile has banned the hunting of Andean mountain cats with penalties in terms of a fine of up to $6,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 3 years. In Peru, there's a ban on the hunting, trading, and possession of Andean cats (living or dead).
Conservation Efforts
Because the Andean mountain cat is an endangered species, several organizations have undertaken conservation efforts in order to protect these animals.

➪ Notably, the Wildlife Conservation Network supports the Andean Cat Alliance, a group dedicated to preserving the Andean mountain cat. The alliance takes a grassroots approach to conservation, working directly in the Andean cat's habitat and with local governments in the four countries where the cats live.

➪ Researchers working with the Andean Cat Alliance were responsible for the first capture and tagging of an Andean cat, as well as some of the first photographs of the cats in their natural state, taken by camera traps.
With the efforts of the Andean Cat Alliance and similar coalitions, the Andean mountain cat will continue to thrive, even if it stays relatively unknown.
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