The Andean mountain cat: an endangered Andean species
13 January 2020
What a pretty animal the Andean Mountain cat is! Also known simply as the Andean cat, Leopardus jacobita is a small wild feline that inhabits a few isolated high mountain regions of South America’s Andes Mountains.
It’s cute little face is similar to a domestic calico, but its tail is striped, thick, long and bushy- reminiscent of another endangered mountain wild cat, but much larger and very distant- the Himalayan Snow Leopard. Strangely, but as evidenced in photographs, the Andean cat looks a bit like a cross between a house cat and snow leopard. Such a beauty!
But this hardy survivor it’s no house cat! The Andean mountain cat inhabits mainly in the cold, rugged Andean mountains of southern Peru, with smaller isolated ranges in the Andean highlands of northern Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.
This rarely seen species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with only an estimated 2,500 individuals thought to remain in the wild.
The Andean cat lives in isolated areas of the high Andes, from about 5,900 ft. (1,800 m.) above sea level in northwestern Argentina, and up to over 13,000 ft. (4,000) a.s.l. in the Andes of Peru, Chile and Bolivia. It takes a really tough cat to survive at such altitudes!
A meaty diet
As carnivores, their diet consists mainly (up to 94%) of the Andean vizcacha, a rabbit-like rodent that lives in rocky areas. One might speculate that the Andean cat’s long tail helps it to maintain its balance as it scampers about rocky formations hunting for vizcachas.
Another small South American wild cat, the Pampas cat, also inhabits the same regions, but it has much larger range, including the lowland plains. Somewhat similar in appearance, pampas cats are sometimes identified as Andean cats, which makes accurate population surveys difficult.
They also share the same food sources, which generates competition between these species. The pampas cat, with its larger populations, is listed as Near Threatened.
Discovery of the species
Before 1998, only two photographs were known of the Andean mountain cat. Researcher Jim Sanderson took on the challenge of finding and studying the Andean cat. Since then, the dedicated efforts of Sanderson and associated scientists and field researchers of the Small Cat Alliance and other wildlife conservation NGOs and governmental organizations have been essential in the conservation of this precious species.
The central governments of Peru, Chile, and Argentina have enacted hunting bans and different levels of protection for the Andean cat and other wild felines, with less specific regulations in Bolivia.
What is absolutely key in conservation initiatives to protect Andean fauna is to guarantee the protection and integrity of entire ecosystems, especially in high mountains areas where many animals depend on hunting scarce prey, or on eating fragile vegetation, in order to survive.
When you embark on your journey to trek and explore the Andes, your chances of seeing an Andean cat are not particularly high. But you just never know- you could be lucky and see one, even photograph one, especially in some of the pristine, uncrowded areas along the Route to Ausangate.
You will very likely see vizcachas scurrying about the rock formations, along with many bird species, and dozens of llamas and alpacas.
Please keep in mind, Andean Lodges is fully dedicated to protecting and conserving Andean mountain ecosystems. As one of the most experienced and professional adventure travel companies in all of Latin America, supporting ecosystem protection and wildlife conservation are key components of our mission.
All in all, the Andean Lodges experience is about close connection with the natural world. You’ll hike among huge mountains and glaciers that inspire awe and wonder, alongside glittering glacial lakes and streams, and across magical meadows.
And you’ll enjoy the hospitality and comfort of some of the very best mountain ecolodges in the world. And you’ll meet a local native culture, the Quechua people of the Ausangate region, who welcome you to enjoy the wonders of their ancestral lands. This is all about living life at its very fullest!
How to do this? Contact us at andeanlodges.com and we’ll help you plan the most ideal Ausangate trek for your expectations and needs. You can also include a perfect acclimatization program, during which you’ll prepare for your trek by exploring the ancient and modern wonders Cusco has to offer.
The time is now, and who knows- you just might, maybe, see a very, very special wild kitty in the Andes of Peru!