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Andean Mountain Cat

Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita) female at night, Abra Granada, Andes, northwestern Argentina
Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita) female at night, Abra Granada, Andes, northwestern Argentina

Names
English – Andean Cat, Andean Mountain Cat
Spanish – Gato Andino, Gato Montés Andino, Oskollo, Titi, Titipisi, Osjo, Osjollo

Taxonomy
Latin Name: Leopardus jacobita

The Andean cat was formerly placed in its own genus, Oreailurus, but genetic research has determined that it belongs in the Leopardus genus.  Andean cats belong to the ocelot lineage and are closely related to colocolo, margay, ocelot, northern oncilla, southern oncilla, guiña, and Geoffroy’s cat. It is considered a small cat.

Distribution

Andean Cat Distribution Range Map
Andean Cat distribution map – created with google maps.

The Andean cat is found in the Andes of South America. It’s range extends over the following countries: Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

Description
The Andean cat is similarly sized to a very large house cat. It’s gray, or silvery fur is spotted and striped with brown-reddish and black markings. It has a very long tail, the length of which is about sixty-five percent of its head to body length. The tail appears bushy and is marked with 5-10 distinct bands. Their legs are banded with 2-3 black bars and their face is lightly marked. It has a black nosed, which is the easiest way to tell it apart from the smaller Pampas Cat (pink nose), with which it shares its habitat. The species exhibits sexual dimorphism with males being slightly larger than females.

Habitat

Altiplano, the high altitude plain on Bolivia, is a rocky landscape, intersected by valleys, Ciudad de Piedra, Andes, western Bolivia
Dry puna, a dry shrubland rocky habitat found in the high Andes of Argentina. Volcanoes are often present in this habitat. Abra Granada, Andes, northwestern Argentina
Bofedal wetlands have found to be important areas for Andean cats. Abra Granada, Andes, northwestern Argentina

The Andean Cat is a high-atitude specialist, being generally found above 3,000 meters, with one record as high as 5,100 meters. The habitat is generally always rocky, with sparse grasses and shrubs. There is one record of an Andean cat below the tree line, in the Patagonian steppe, at an elevation of 650 meters.

Activity

Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita) at night, Abra Granada, Andes, northwestern Argentina
Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita) at night, Abra Granada, Andes, northwestern Argentina

The Andean cat is solitary, and only comes together with a conspecific for breeding. It is mostly active at night, with peaks in activity around sunrise and sunset (crepuscular), but can also be day active. In winter, with lower average temperatures, it will be more active during the day.

Known resting sites consisted of small caves in rocky areas.

Predation

Southern Viscacha (Lagidium viscacia), Ciudad de Piedra, Andes, western Bolivia
The Andean cats favorite prey — the Southern Viscacha (Lagidium viscacia). Ciudad de Piedra, Andes, western Bolivia
Common Yellow-toothed Cavy (Galea musteloides), Ciudad de Piedra, Andes, western Bolivia
Common Yellow-toothed Cavy (Galea musteloides), Ciudad de Piedra, Andes, western Bolivia
White-bellied Grass Mouse (Akodon albiventer) feeding, Abra Granada, Andes, northwestern Argentina
White-bellied Grass Mouse (Akodon albiventer) feeding, Abra Granada, Andes, northwestern Argentina

The Andean cat primarily feeds on viscachas, a rodent that looks similar to a rabbit. In the past, Andean cats probably heavily relied on Chinchillas as a food source, but since their eradication because of the fur trade, the cats have had to switch prey items. Besides viscachas, Andean cats will also prey on other rodents, like cavys and mice, and sometimes birds. They have been reported to scavenge from carcasses, and predation of domestic animals has rarely been documented. Most of the hunting by Andean Mountain Cats is done in rocky terrain at night, with peaks at sunrise and sunset. The actual act of predation, as in how it stalks its prey is unknown.

Social Organization
Due to the arid climate, which supports less prey, the home range size of the Andean cat is quite large. Only one home range size, of a female, was ever calculated, which was 65 km². Male territories are larger than female territories, and one male territory overlaps multiple female home ranges.

When the young leave their natal home range is unknown.

Communication
The Andean cat probably has a multitude of vocalizations including meows, growl, and hisses, but this too is fairly unknown.

Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita) latrine, Abra Granada, Andes, northwestern Argentina
Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita) latrine, Abra Granada, Andes, northwestern Argentina

To communicate without direct contact, they will scent mark, deposit feces, and spray urine as part of territorial marking. Interestingly enough, unlike most other cats, Andean cats primarily defecate in latrines, using the same areas over and over again. These latrines are often in dry places, like caves and small overhangs, which probably keeps the smell strong for the longest possible amount of time. Andean cats can pick up smells over larger distances through the vomeronasal organ.

Reproduction and Development
Age at Sexual Maturity: Unkown
Birth Season: Unknown, but most likely in the southern hemisphere spring and summer
Estrus: Unkown
Estrus Cycle: Unkown
Litter Size: 1-2 kittens
Gestation: Unknown, but approximated at 60 days.
Longevity: Unknown in the wild

Population Status
The species as a whole is very rare through much of its range. The IUCN classifies the Andean cat as endangered with less than 2,500 mature animals in the wild. The Andean Cat Alliance latest estimate is that there are 1,378 mature individuals combined, for all four countries. There numbers are also decreasing.

Main Threats

Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita) stuffed animal hanging in house, considered to bring good luck for the fertility of domesticated livestock, Abra Granada, Andes, northwestern Argentina
Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita) stuffed animal hanging in house, considered to bring good luck for the fertility of domesticated livestock, Abra Granada, Andes, northwestern Argentina
Southern Viscacha (Lagidium viscacia) killed by hunter, the viscacha is the principal prey of the Andean cat, Ciudad de Piedra, Andes, western Bolivia
Southern Viscacha (Lagidium viscacia) killed by hunter, the viscacha is the principal prey of the Andean cat, Ciudad de Piedra, Andes, western Bolivia

Direct hunting and hunting of their prey are major threat to this feline. In some parts of their range, Andean cats are killed because they are believed to bring good luck for the fertility of domesticated livestock.

Area burned by livestock owners to scare away predators, leading to habitat fragmentation, Abra Granada, Andes, northwestern Argentina
Area burned by livestock owners to scare away predators, leading to habitat fragmentation, Abra Granada, Andes, northwestern Argentina
Borax mine, Loma Blanca Mine, Andes, northwestern Argentina
Borax mine, Loma Blanca Mine, Andes, northwestern Argentina

Habitat destruction through mining and burning are also threats to the survival of the Arabian Caracal.

Conservation
Hunting of the Andean cat is prohibited in all four countries in which it lives.

The Andean cat is categorized as Appendix I by CITES, which means they are considered to be threatened with extinction and are subsequently prohibited from the international trade in specimens of this subspecies.

The Andean Cat Alliance, a group of biologists and conservationists are dedicating their lives to protect the species. You can learn more here.

Captive Status
There are no Andean cats currently in captivity. For a few months in early 2017, there was a sub-adult male Andean cat that was found in a soccer field and brought to the Bolivian zoo for medical check-ups. He was released back into the wild because of the actions of the Andean Cat Alliance.

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