Andean mountain cat, rare and endangered

The conservation status of the rare Andean mountain cat is difficult to assess but, according to the IUCN, the species is endangered

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Andean mountain cat, rare and endangered

The Andean mountain cat is found in central and southern Peru, western Bolivia, northeastern Chile and western Argentina, where it occupies only high altitude Andean habitats, mostly from 3000 to 5100m, with most sightings above the 4000 m.

In the Andes it is restricted to semi-arid to arid areas with sparse vegetation above the treeline, mainly in habitats dominated by steep rocky slopes with bofedales and associated dry scrublands. Andean cats have recently been sighted in the Patagonian steppes at altitudes of 650-1800 meters, therefore below the treeline, in rocky areas with scrub and steppe vegetation.

Andean mountain cat, rare and endangered

The conservation status of the rare Andean mountain cat is difficult to assess but, according to the IUCN, the species is endangered. In field studies, this species appears much less often than other carnivores, which would indicate a natural rarity.

It has a very restricted range and a preference for limited habitats, vulnerable to livestock grazing, agriculture, mining and petroleum exploitation, which often impact rocky regions and water sources. Habitat conversion can also affect prey numbers, especially in combination with human hunting of the same prey, especially viscacha, which is considered a serious threat.

Andean cats are sacred according to indigenous Aymara and Quechua traditions of the harvest festival in which fur or stuffed cats are kept indoors in the belief that they bring fertility and productivity to domestic livestock and crops.

They seem to have little fear of man and that they let themselves be approached easily. The local populations easily kill them with the throwing of a large stone. They are also prosecuted for suspected predation on poultry and livestock killings, and are killed without delay by shepherds and their dogs in Patagonia, Argentina.

The rapid and extensive development of fracking in the northern Patagonian steppes threatens the entire range of the species in the region. The habits of this species are little known. Most sightings and camera traps indicate largely solitary behavior.

In all, only six animals were tracked with radio collars, with results published for only one individual, a female from the Bolivian Andes studied for seven months, whose home range was estimated at 65.5 km², an unexpectedly high figure.

Preliminary data from five radio-collared individuals in the Argentine Andes indicate relatively large home ranges, averaging 58.5 km², which is double that of Pampas cats in the same area. The large home ranges of the Andean cat may reflect the species' dependence on viscachas, which, living in widely separated colonies, force it to cover great distances to move from one colony to another.

In camera traps, the Andean cat is always less frequent than the Pampas cat, its close relative, in areas where the two species are sympatric. The only rigorous density estimate for the Andean cat comes from the Argentine High Andes, where 7-12 individuals per 100 km² have been estimated compared with 74-79 Pampas cats per 100 km².