Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Felidae

Scientific Name: Leopardus jacobita
Species Authority: (Cornalia, 1865)
Common Name(s):
English Andean Cat, Mountain Cat, Andean Mountain Cat
French Chat Des Andes
Spanish Chinchay, Gato Andino, Gato Lince
Felis jacobita Cornalia, 1865
Oreailurus jacobita (Cornalia, 1865)
Oreailurus jacobitus (Cornalia, 1865) [orth. error]
Oreailurus jacobitus (Cornalia, 1865)
Taxonomic Notes: Previously recognized as belonging to a monotypic genus Oreailurus (Cabrera 1940, Wozencraft 1993, Nowell and Jackson 1996, Yensen and Seymour 2000), the Andean Cat is included in the genus Leopardus following Eizirik et al. (submitted). The genus Leopardus includes most small Neotropical felids, and speciation within it has been relatively recent compared to other felid lineages (Johnson et al. 2006). While there is strong support for inclusion of the Andean Cat in this genus based on genetic analysis, how closely it is related to the Pampas Cat L. colocolo remains unclear (Eizirik et al. submitted). The classification of the Andean Cat as Oreailurus was based in part, from very few specimens, on the relative size difference in the skull's auditory chambers, but this trait is also found in other felid species (Johnson et al. 1998, Garcia-Perea 2002). The specific name, jacobita, is in honor of Jacobita Mantagazza (Cornalia 1865) and should not be declined to jacobitus (Yensen and Seymour 2000) as is sometimes seen in the literature. This is one of only two felids for which no subspecies have been classically described (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered C2a(i) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Acosta, G., Cossios, D., Lucherini, M. & Villalba, L.
Reviewer(s): Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U. (Cat Red List Authority) & Schipper, J. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)
There has been a substantial increase in research effort on the Andean cat since Nowell and Jackson (1996) wrote that "it is not clear whether [its] apparent rarity is a natural phenomenon, is attributable to human actions, or is simply a misperception resulting from lack of observations." Surveys since then have confirmed that the Andean cat is a rare species, occurring at lower densities in the same high-altitude environment as its close cousin, the pampas cat Leopardus colocolo (Perovic et al. 2003, Cossios et al. 2007, Napolitano et al. 2008, Villalba et al. 2008). Across its range, it has a very low level of genetic diversity (Cossios and Angers 2007).

The Andean's cat preferred high elevation montane habitat is fragmented by deep valleys, and its distribution is likely to be further localized by the patchy nature of colonies of its preferred prey, mountain vizcachas (Lagidium spp). The total effective population size (Ne) could be below 2,500 mature individuals, with a declining trend due to loss of prey base and habitat, as well as to persecution and hunting for traditional ceremonial purposes, and no subpopulation having an effective population size larger than 250 mature individuals (IUCN Cats Red List Workshop 2007).
Previously published Red List assessments:
2002 Endangered (EN)
1996 Vulnerable (VU)
1994 Insufficiently Known (K)
1990 Rare (R)
1988 Rare (R)
1986 Rare (R)
1982 Rare (R)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: The Andean Cat has a restricted distribution, being found only in the higher elevations of the Andes moutains, in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru. In Argentina, while the average elevation of occurrence was estimated at 4,236 m (Perovic et al. 2003), it has also been found at lower elevations, with a new record of 1,800 m in the southern Andes (Sorli et al. 2006). In Chile, Napolitano collected confirmed scats of the Andean Cat from 3,714 to 4,414 m, but the probability of finding scats increased with altitude. In Bolivia, Villalba et al. (2008) consider it to occur generally only from 4,100 m and higher, and most records from Peru were collected at 4,000 m or higher (Cossios et al. 2007). While range in Chile appears to be less extensive (Iriarte 1998, Napolitano et al. 2008) than previously inferred (Scrocchi and Halloy 1986), in Peru, where it was previously thought to be only of marginal occurrence in the far south, new research has extended its range over 800 km north into the center of the country (Cossios et al. 2007).

The Andean Cat has only been observed in the wild a few times by scientists (Scrocchi and Halloy 1986, Sanderon 1999, Sorli et al. 2006), and there are few museum specimens (Garcia-Perea 2002), but the number of recent distribution records has greatly increased due to the efforts of the Andean Cat Alliance (, a network of specialist researchers.
Countries occurrence:
Argentina; Bolivia, Plurinational States of; Chile; Peru
Lower elevation limit (metres): 1800
Upper elevation limit (metres): 5000
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The Andean Cat is rare compared to its close relative the Pampas Cat. Although the Pampas Cat looks quite different in other parts of its wide range, in the high Andes it is similar in appearance to the Andean Cat, to the extent that local people find it difficult to distinguish the two (Villalba et al. in submission) as well as scientists, who have developed diagnostic keys (Garcia-Perea 2002, Cossios et al. 2007, Palacios 2007). Several studies have found records of the Pampas Cat much more frequently than the Andean Cat (Lucherini and Vidal 2003, Perovic et al. 2003, Cossios et al. 2007, Napolitano et al. 2008, Villalba et al. 2008). Napolitano et al. (2008) found reduced genetic diversity in the Andean Cat compared to the sympatric Pampas Cat, suggesting a "smaller current or historic population size."

The only population estimate available was for a 25,000 ha area in northern Chile, around the Salar de Surire National Monument, where Napolitano et al. (2008) estimated five individuals to occur based on genetic sampling, for a density of one per 5 km².

There are no known Andean Cats in captivity.
Current Population Trend: Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented: Yes

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: The Andean Cat is restricted to the arid, sparsely vegetated areas of the high Andes above the timberline, primarily in the most most rocky and steep terrain (Napolitano et al. 2008). Its distribution is similar to the historic range of the Short-tailed Chinchilla (Chinchilla chinchilla) and current range of the Mountain Vizcacha (Lagidium spp.) (Yensen and Seymour 2000), which are its major prey (Walker et al. 2007, Napolitano et al. 2008). Most recent information about the species has come from analysis of scats found at latrine sites near rocky areas and caves (Cossios et al. 2007, Walker et al. 2007, Napolitano et al. 2008).

The Andean Cat is perhaps a solitary species, but may be seen in pairs or with cubs during mating season and after births respectively (Villalba et al. 2004). Mating season, according to local people in Bolivia, is between July and August (Villalba and Bernal 1998); howeve,r is possible that this period is extended until November or December due to small cubs have been observed in October and April (Villalba 2002, E. Delgado pers. comm.). The period between October and March corresponds to the spring and summer season in the southern hemisphere, and during these seasons it is common to record births for other wildlife species and it is the period of major productivity of vegetation (Villalba et al. 2004). Two kittens were seen by Villalba (2002), and what appears to be an older single cub by Sorli et al. (2006).

Most of the reported sightings of Andean Cats have been mainly during daytime; however, current studies on the species through camera traps and observations of a radio-collared Andean Cat indicate that the activity of the species is mainly at night or crepuscular (Villalba 2002, Lucherini et al. 2004, L. Villalba unpublished data). The crepuscular or nocturnal habits of the Andean Cat are likely related with feeding habits of its main prey, the Mountain Vizcacha, which is considered a diurnal and crepuscular species (Galende et al. 1998).

Data on territoriality is absent, however, as occurs with most felids (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002), it is possible that male territories are larger than those of females and that there could be a certain degree of territory overlapping between the sexes. Because the conditions of the Andean Cat habitat are severe and naturally fragmented, it is probable that territory and home ranges are very large; in fact the results of the radio-tracking of a female Andean Cat, between April and December 2004, gave a home range of 65.5 km² (95% minimum convex polygon: L. Villalba unpublished data).

The Andean Cat is a medium-sized felid; from measures of skins the total length in adults varies from 740 to 850 mm and in sub-adults varies from 577 to 600 mm; tail length is from 410 to 485 for adults and 330 to 420 mm for sub-adults. Only two records on the weight are available, the first from a sub-adult specimen from Peru, which weighed 4 kg (Pearson 1957, García-Perea 2002) and the second is from an adult female from Bolivia which weighed 4.5 kg (Delgado et al. 2004).

Andean Cat fur is mainly ash grey with brown-yellowish blotches that are distributed as vertical lines at both sides of the body, giving the appearance of continuous stripes. The tail of the Andean Cat is very characteristic. It is very long (66 - 75% of the head and body length), thick and cylindrical, with a fluffy aspect and with 6 to 9 wide rings of dark brown to black colour (García-Perea 2002). The legs also have dark and narrower blotches or stripes, but they don’t form complete rings.

Apparently the species is not sexually dimorphic in terms of fur color, but comparisons among Andean cat skulls carried out by García-Perea (2002) suggest that sexual dimorphism is present. Differences between juvenile and adult specimens were also found, with juveniles having a lighter coloration and more and smaller blotches (García-Perea 2002). Because of these features, sub-adult or juvenile Andean Cats can be confused much more easily with Pampas Cats (García-Perea 2002).
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The Andean Cat Conservation Action Plan (2004) considers traditional hunting the top threat, followed by prey reduction and habitat loss and fragmentation.

The Andean Cat (as well as the pampas cat) is considered a sacred animal according to indigenous Aymara and Quechua traditions. Throughout much of its range, dried and stuffed specimens are kept by local people for use in harvest festivals (Iriarte 1998, Sanderson 1999, Perovic et al. 2003, Villalba et al. 2004, Cossios et al. 2007, Villalba et al. 2008). Hunting for such cultural practices may represent a significant threat to the species. In Argentina's Catamarca province, 69% of people interviewed (n=13) said they had hunted small cats (Perovic et al. 2003).

The Mountain Chinchilla was likely to have been a major prey species for the Andean mountain cat, but the species was hunted nearly to extinction for the fur trade (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Its main prey is now the Mountain Vizcacha (Walker et al. 2007, Napolitano et al. 2008), which lives in patchily distributed small colonies and has also been reduced by hunting pressure. This may result in a highly fragmented distribution for the Andean Cat. Genetic analysis suggests that the Andean Cat had a historic or a currently small population size (Napolitano et al. 2008).

Napolitano et al. (2008) found that Andean Cats were much more dependent on Mountain Vizcachas than sympatric Pampas Cats, which took a wider variety of prey. However, Pampas Cats were more abundant that Andean Cats, even at higher altitudes (Napolitano et al. 2008), and inter-specific competition for Vizcacha prey could negatively impact the Andean Cat (Lucherini and Luengos Vidal 2003, Walker et al. 2007).

Habitat alteration and destruction, mainly by extensive mining, resource extraction for fuel, and to a lesser degree cattle grazing is increasingly affecting its populations in some parts of its range (Villalba et al. 2004).

Hunting by local people who consider the Andean Cat a predator of their small domestic livestock has been frequently reported particularly in some regions of Argentina, Chile and Peru (Iriarte 1998, Cossíos and Madrid 2003, Lucherini et al. 2003). These cats are also killed by dogs accompanying local shepherds. Cossios et al. (2007) also reported the hunting of Andean and Pampas Cats for food and for traditional medicine in central Peru.

Napolitano et al. (2008) found that the probability of finding sign of the Andean Cat decreased with proximity to human settlement.

Cossios and Angers (2007) found that the genetic diversity of Andean Cats was extremely low across their range.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Included on CITES Appendix I (as Leopardus jacobitus). The Andean Cat also has full protection at national level across its entire range, as described below. However, law enforcement is problematic, and recently hunted specimens have been observed in the field and for sale in special markets to be used in religious ceremonies. Traditional cultural reverence for the Andean Cat should be the foundation of a conservation education program to reduce hunting pressure (Lucherini et al. 2003, Villalba et al. 2008). Conservation also depends on maintaining and restoring colonies of the main prey species, Mountain Vizcachas (Lagidium spp.), which historically have been destroyed or severely reduced (Napolitano et al. 2008).

The Andean Cat Conservation Action Plan (Villalba et al. 2004) lists protected areas where Andean Cat presence is confirmed and suspected.

The action plan has six objectives:

To determine the current distribution and relative abundance of Andean Cat populations, and the threats that affect the species and natural ecosystems;

To carry out scientific research to provide basic information on Andean Cat biology and ecology;

To mitigate impacts of human activities on the Andean Cat and natural ecosystems through community education and participation;

To strengthen the management of protected areas where the Andean Cat is present, promote the establishment of new areas or corridors and encourage the development of conservation initiatives in the region;

To promote the implementation and adequacy of conservation legislation and policies regarding the Andean Cat and natural ecosystems; and

To continuously evaluate the actions developed in the implementation of this plan.

National legislation

The Andean Cat is protected by National Law 22421 of wildlife conservation and its Statutory
Decree 666/97. Also, Resolution N°63/86 of the Secretary of Agriculture.

Along with other wild species of fauna and flora, the Andean Cat is protected by the Supreme
Decree N°22641, promulgated in 1990, which establishes a general and undefined ban for the
pursuit, capture, storing and conditioning of wild animals and its derivative products.

All felid species are fully protected since 1972 by Law N° 19473. The illegal hunting of felines in
Chile is penalized with fines up to US$ 6.000 and imprisonment up to 3 years.

In Peru the Andean Cat is considered a threatened species and its hunting, commerce and
possession (live or dead animals or its parts) is prohibited (Supreme Decree N°013-99-AG,

Citation: Acosta, G., Cossios, D., Lucherini, M. & Villalba, L. 2008. Leopardus jacobita. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T15452A4586989. . Downloaded on 10 October 2015.
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