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The Andean Cat Is One Of The World’s Rarest And Unknown Cats.

 The Andean cat is one of the world’s rarest cats. It dwells in the Andes and Patagonian steppe, where food is sparse and the weather is harsh. This little, tough cat is hard to find (just ten sightings in 25 years) and even more challenging to study.

The Andean cat, Leopardus jacobita, is a stunning wild cat. Brown-yellowish blotches run vertically down both sides of the body, creating the appearance of continuous stripes. The thick, fluffy fur is fine and soft, and the underside is pale with dark markings. Dark grey bars adorn the chest and forelegs. The broad, rounded ears have dark grey backs and a black nose.

The legs feature dark spots or stripes, but they don’t form rings. Large feet have blackish bars and spots on them, and greyish-brown soles. Their gorgeous tail is almost 70% of the length of their heads. The tail seems spherical because the underside has hair as long and dense as the top. It features six to nine dark bands and a black tip. This lengthy tail may help balance when hunting in rough terrain. It’s likely used to keep warm while sleeping, tucking the nose inside. Males and females have the same fur color, although juvenile and adult individuals differ. Juveniles have lighter coloring and more blotches, making them more easily confused with Pampas cats like Leopardus colocolo.

The Andean cat is found in the high Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, up to 5,000 m. It has recently been identified outside the Andes, in lowland Patagonian steppe and scrub environments (as low as 650 m). Its known range was extended by 500 kilometers when an Andean cat and a kitten were discovered in a reserve in San Juan province, Argentina. In 2004, researchers discovered these cats in the Andes foothills on the eastern side. These records extend the range of the Patagonian steppe scrubland species. The foothills population is thought to be patchy, like its major prey species. Two estimates of density in northern Argentina and central Bolivia were that there were 7–12 and 1.8 individuals per 100 km2, respectively. Natural habitat fragmentation means huge territories and home ranges. It was 65.5 km2 for a female radio-tracked in Bolivia and 58.5 km2 for a guy. Argentine camera trapping is an estimated 40.5 km2.

The Andean cats are located in the rocky desert and semi-arid zones of the Andes. The vegetation is mostly dwarf shrubs and bunch grass, with some rocks and boulders. The species prefers valleys with rocky sides. Its principal prey species depend on rock piles and stones for their survival at such high altitudes. The Andean cat’s native habitat is fragmented. It has a patchy distribution due to its prey’s dispersal.

The Andean cat eats small mammals, birds, and lizards. It feeds on mountain vizcacha. In a recent study in NW Argentina, tiny animals were the most common prey (93 percent of the samples). Mountain chinchillas were once the main prey, but they are now extinct in most of their areas due to over-hunting for their fur. Their ecology and behavior are unknown. Most reported Andean cat sightings have been during the day. However, recent research using video traps and a radio-collared animal shows that activity is mostly at night or dawn and dusk. The Andean cat’s activity schedule is probably tied to its prey’s feeding patterns.

Andean cats are far more reliant on vizcacha than Pampas cats. Pampas cats are more common and take a greater variety of prey, which could harm the Andean cat. When mating or after birth, Andean cats may be spotted in pairs or with cubs. According to Bolivians, the mating season occurs between July and August, but it may continue until November or December if little cubs are seen in October and April. No information on reproduction is available, and no captive Andean cats are known.

The Andean cat is America’s most endangered felid. Their overall number is estimated at less than 1,400 animals. Their range overlaps with the mountain chinchilla’s historic range, which was hunted to extinction for the fur trade a century ago. Despite widespread concern for the Andean cat’s health, little is known about its population structure, which is essential for effective management.

Since 1999, the Andean Cat Alliance has worked in all range countries. There are international programs to safeguard the Andean cat and its habitat in addition to national ones. These efforts have increased knowledge about this uncommon and unknown species. Andean Cat Conservation Action Plan 2004 This plan consolidated existing Andean cat information, integrated local people’s perspectives from various geographic locations, and specified protected sites where Andean cat existence is proven or suspected. Based on the gathered data, three action plans were developed in 2009.

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