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Big Cat 411: All About The Andean Cat

by Victoria
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In South America, there is a native wild cat that lurks among the mountains, feasting on chinchillas and living in conditions humans would find inhabitable. Its name is the Andean cat.

Now, don’t get us wrong – this cat isn’t as dry and scary as its habitat may sound. The Andean cat is actually a fascinating and friendly feline, who deserves our attention, especially since it is one of the most endangered cats on earth.

Let’s learn all there is to know about the Andean cat!

Andean cat facts

Andean cats live only in 4 different countries

You won’t find the Andean cat just anywhere in the world. This cat lives only in South American, in four specific countries: Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. There is a reasoning for this.

Andean cats thrive in high-elevation and extremely rugged terrains. This is one of the various reasons these cats have been very difficult to study. It is almost too life-threatening to study these cats in their natural habitat. It isn’t very easy to navigate for humans, particularly at night. Andean cats are nocturnal, active mostly in darkness.

This cat has gorgeous looks

Andean cats have a very unique look. Their fur coat can be silver or ash grey, with large orange-brown stripes or spots all over their small body. These colors help Andean cats stay camouflaged in the dry rocky, and shrubby terrain of the mountains. Plus, their thick coats help them stay warm as they hunt at night when temperatures can be seriously cold.

The Andean cat is also not a very large kitty either. It weighs around just 12 pounds, just a few pounds larger than your average housecat. But, its long, beautiful tail, graced with black rings, adds length to this beautiful wild cat’s body.

The Andean cat loves altitude

These South American cats can thrive way up in the air. We’re talking 3000 to 4000 meters up, in the dry grasslands of the Andes mountain chain. These areas are only habitable by certain animals. This is why these cats evolved a very specialized diet of mountain chinchillas, known as mountain vizcachas, as well as reptiles, rabbits, and other small animals that roam in the area.

Actually, locals have their own name for the Andean cat. ‘Huana titi’ is this cat’s original name, meaning ‘the cat from dry places.’ This is a simple and concise way of describing the arid habitat that the Andean cat calls home.

Don’t forget that Andean cats can be queens

Yes, you heard that right. Like oncillas, Andean female cats are known as queens whereas male Andean cats are called tomcats.

There are very few Andean cats left

The Andean cat is the most threatened cat in all of the Americas, making it one of the top 5 most endangered cats in the world. There is an estimated 1400 Andean cats left in the world. This is due to the saddening consequences of habitat shrinkage. Andean cats often find themselves entering farms and eating livestock, causing communities to hunt and kill Andean cats. Fortunately, there are conservationists challenging this terrible reality. The WCN (Wildlife Conservation Network) and the Andean Cat Alliance (Gato Andino) have special projects dedicated to saving the Andean cat, with structured, on-site solutions, led by skilled locals.

Andean cats even living in cities

The Andean cat’s shrinking habitat has led these cats to venture to more urban settings. In fact, there were recent reports in Chile of these cats lurking around the outskirts of its capital, Santiago.

At the edge of the city lays the Parque Mahuida nature reserve, a terrain much more approachable than the rough terrain Andean cats are used to. What calls these majestic cats down from their usual high-altitude habitat is survival. Mountain vizcachas, a type of chinchilla native to the area, roam in this reserve. They’re also a core part of the Andean cat’s diet.

It is extremely sad that such an elusive cat like the Andean must venture close to city limits for food. Since July, locals have reported 3 adult Andean cats that routinely pass through the area. Who knows how many more will come!

The Andean cat is a special kitty that sadly faces more hardship than it should. With its population shrinking, it is our job as cat lovers to spread the message about this incredible South American cat. It is a critical part of the Andes eco-system and the global cat family. Please share this post with other cat lovers you know, so that you can spread awareness about the endangered Andean cat species!

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