Leopardus jacobitusAndean mountain cat

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Geographic Range

Andean cats (Oreailurus jacobita) inhabit the Andean mountain region of southern Peru and Bolivia to northern Chile and northwestern Argentina. The restricted range of Andean cats may be due to their specialized predation on mountain chinchillas and mountain viscachas, which also have a narrow habitat range in the high Andes mountains. (Yensen and Seymour, 2000)

Habitat

The habitat of this South American cat is very specialized. Andean cats are only known from the arid to semi-arid regions of the high Andes mountains. Preferred habitat is normally above timberline at 3000 to 4000 meters. This habitat is primarily very rocky with scattered bunchgrass, tola bushes, and other small shrubs (Parastrephia phylicaeformis, Tetraglochin alatum, Nassauvia azillaris). They also occur in high mountain grasslands with wet, grassy meadows and various shrubs. (Cat Specialist Group, 1996a; Yensen and Seymour, 2000)

  • Range elevation
    3000 to 5000 m
    9842.52 to 16404.20 ft

Physical Description

Andean cats weigh only about 4 kg. The fur is thick, measuring 40 to 45 mm on the dorsal surface. Body color is pale silver or ash gray with irregular rust-colored spots. The spots are found in a general vertical line pattern along the body. Conspicuous dark stripes extend from the back down the sides of the animal and gray bars also run across the forelegs and chest. The belly is pale-colored with dark spots. The tail is thick and long with six to nine dark brown rings, the tip may be a pale white color in some individuals. The nose and lips are black with areas of white surrounding the edges of the lips, eyes and sides of the face. Also, dark stripes that start behind each eye meet those that run from the nose to the mouth. The spots on juvenile O. jacobita are more numerous and the rings on their tail are much narrower than an adult. As the cats age, their spot number decreases and the color of their coat also becomes lighter. Sexual dimorphism has not yet been observed. Body length ranges from 577 to 850 mm and the tail is about 70% of the body length at 410 to 485 mm. Their auditory bullae are greatly expanded. (Cat Specialist Group, 1996a; Garcia-Perea, 2002; Yensen and Seymour, 2000)

Leopardus jacobitus is commonly mistaken for the pampas cat, Leopardus colocolo, which is also found in the Andean mountains. Pampas cats can be distinguished from Andean mountain cats by their shorter, less tapering tail with fewer rings. The bars on the pelt of pampas cats are black and much more distinct and the base coat is more yellow brown in color than that of Andean mountain cats. (Yensen and Seymour, 2000)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    4 kg
    8.81 lb
  • Range length
    577 to 850 mm
    22.72 to 33.46 in
  • Average length
    661 mm
    26.02 in

Reproduction

No information has been documented about the mating system of Andean cats.

There has been no record of the general reproductive behavior of Andean cats due to a very limited number of observations in the wild. Their close relatives, pampas cats (Leopardus colocolo), breed from April to July. The litter size of pampas cats ranges from 1 to 3 kittens and they reach sexual maturity at two years of age. This reproductive information may be similar to that of Andean cats because of their close relationship. (Cat Specialist Group, 1996b; Garcia-Perea, 2002)

  • Breeding interval
    Andean mountain cats probably breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season is unknown.

There is no information available about parental care in Andean cats. However, like most felids, females probably provide all parental care and nurse and care for their young until they reach an age of independence. Most cat species also teach their young to hunt for a period before they disperse from their natal range.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • extended period of juvenile learning

Lifespan/Longevity

There is no conclusive information on the lifespan of Andean cats in the wild. The one reported individual that was held in captivity lived for one year. No other biological data was recorded for this species. A closely related species, the pampas cat, has an average life span of nine years in the wild but can reach an age of 16.5 years in captivity. This lifespan information for pampas cats may be similar to Andean mountain cats. (Cat Specialist Group, 1996b; Yensen and Seymour, 2000)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    1 (high) years

Behavior

Andean cats are thought to be primarily nocturnal, though some sightings have occurred during the day. They are very agile when hunting for their primary prey, mountain viscachas and mountain chinchillas. These cats will explore under and around boulders seeking their prey. While hunting, the tail is often held high in the air. The long tail of Andean cats is important in keeping balance and agility while hunting in rocky, mountainous terrain. From the few recorded observations, Andean cats appear to be solitary and unafraid of the presence of humans. (Cat Specialist Group, 1996a; Yensen and Seymour, 2000)

Home Range

Information about home ranges and territories of Andean mountain cats are unavailable. (Cat Specialist Group, 1996a; Yensen and Seymour, 2000)

Communication and Perception

No communication behaviors between Andean cats have been recorded. Species closely related to Andean cats communicate through mewing and yowls.

Food Habits

Andean cats are specialized predators of mountain chinchillas and mountain viscachas. However, these cats may eat reptiles, birds, and other small mammals, such as rabbits, and tuco tucos. (Cat Specialist Group, 1996a; Yensen and Seymour, 2000)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles

Predation

There are no known predators of Andean cats. However, this animal does possess a fur color pattern that allows it to blend in with its surrounding habitat. Humans may prey on Andean cats occasionally for their pelts. (Yensen and Seymour, 2000)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Andean mountain cats are important predators of mountain viscacha, mountain chinchillas, and possibly other small to medium-sized vertebrate species throughout their range. (Yensen and Seymour, 2000)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Pelts of these animals are occasionally seen in South American fur markets but no record of international trade exists for this species. (Cat Specialist Group, 1996a)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no negative impacts of Andean cats.

Conservation Status

Leopardus jacobitus is a very rare and elusive cat species. As of 2001, the population size of breeding O. jacobita was estimated to be below 2,500 animals and there are no known subpopulations with more than 250 mature individuals. Leopardus jacobitus is ranked as an endangered animal by the IUCN Red List as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and is listed in Appendix I by CITES. The Andean mountain cat is now protected throughout its geographical range.

In Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia Andean cats are protected against commercialization, trade, and hunting by law. Sometimes considered the least known of the world's cats, Andean cats may be endangered due to habitat deterioration and exploitation by humans for pelts. The declining abundance of their primary prey, mountain chinchillas and mountain viscachas, may have contributed the most to their low population numbers. Chinchillas were once hunted to the brink of extinction and population numbers remain low. (Yensen and Seymour, 2000)

Other Comments

Little is known about Andean cats. There have been only five reported observations of these animals in the wild. Only one animal has been held in captivity for one year, where it died. These cats are considered to be closely related to pampas cats (Leopardus colocolo), which occur sympatrically with Andean cats in the high Andes. Although there is a much higher abundance of pampas cats throughout the Andes region, a surprisingly low amount of information has been collected about the ecology of this species also. (Cat Specialist Group, 1996b; Yensen and Seymour, 2000)

In northern Chile and Bolivia it is thought bad luck to see an Andean cat and afterwards the person must kill it. It is also Andean tradition to keep stuffed and dried skins of O. jacobita. The skins are decorated and used for festivals, religious rituals, and folk magic. (Yensen and Seymour, 2000)

Contributors

Tara Biagi (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Aaron Wright (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

nocturnal

active during the night

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Cat Specialist Group, 1996. "Andean Mountain Cat Species Account" (On-line ). Accessed 10/01/02 at http://lynx.uio.no/catfolk/sp-accts.htm.

Cat Specialist Group, 1996. "Pampas Cat Species Account" (On-line ). Accessed 12/06/02 at http://lynx.uio.no/catfolk/pampas01.htm.

Garcia-Perea, R. 2002. Oreailurus jacobita: morphological description and comparison with other felines from the altiplano. Journal of Mammology, 83(1): 110-124.

Yensen, E., K. Seymour. 2000. Oreailurus jacobita. Mammalian Species, 644: 1-6. Accessed May 04, 2004 at http://www.bioone.org/bioone/?request=get-document&issn=0076-3519&volume=644&issue=01&page=0001.