New Population of Small Mountain Cats Renews Hope for the Species


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Before 1998, the only evidence of the elusive Andean mountain cat was a pair of photographs. Today, conservationists believe that 2500 individuals range over a small and highly fragmented habitat in the high Andes of South America—but knowledge of the small wild cat is still limited.

Now, a sighting of the cat at low elevation and southern latitude suggests that the range of the endangered species may be wider than previously thought—a discovery that greatly improves the cat's chances for survival.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The sightings occurred on the Patagonian steppe at elevations as low as 2,100 feet. The typical range for the cat is between 11,500 and 15,700 feet. Andres Novaro, a conservationist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, explained:

These confirmed records show the lowest elevations ever reported for the Andean cat...according to genetic studies underway led by Daniel Cossios, this new population appears to represent an evolutionary lineage distinct from the highland population.

Steep valleys and rivers mean that the high-mountain cat's habitat is naturally fragmented, making it highly vulnerable to poaching and local extinction. Moreover, populations of the cat's main source of prey&dmash;a species of Andean rabbit—are declining.

There are currently no Andean mountain cats in captivity.

"Discovering a new population of Andean cats is an important finding for this elusive and rare species," said Mariana Varese, acting director of WCS's Latin America and Caribbean Program, "determining the range of the Andean cat in the Patagonian steppe will provide conservationists with a foundation for later conservation plans."

Of the 36 known wild cat species in the world, 22 are "small cats"—roughly the size of a house cat or slightly larger. The majority of conservation energy and funding, however, is devoted to the more prominent "big cats."

Read more about cats:
Adorable Tiger Cub Violates Carry-On Restrictions (Photos)
Meet the World's Newest Cat, the Sunda Clouded Leopard
Cat Rehab Weans Feral Felines Off Endangered Birds

Tags: Animals | Conservation | Endangered Species

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK

treehugger slideshows