CatSG

Pampas cat

Leopardus colocolo

IUCN Red List: Near Threatened

Weight: 3-4 kg      
Body length: 42-79 cm      
Tail length: 22-33 cm      
Longevity: 9-18 years      
Litter size: 1-3 cubs      

Description

Pampas cat with a brown fur colour and black stripes on the legs.
The pink coloured nose distinguishes the pampas cat clearly from the Andean cat.
Different coat patterns of the pampas cat. Drawings from Garcia-Perea 1994 (American Museum Novitates 3096).

On the basis of morphological variation in the skull and skeleton from 96 museum specimens, a division into three species was proposed: Lynchailurus colocolo, L. pajeros, and L. braccatus. More recent genetic analysis of the mitochondrial DNA diversity suggests however, that it should be considered as a single species but that population subdivisions exist. Genetically there seem to be different populations in Uruguay and southern Brazil, Bolivia and northern Chile and western Argentina and central Chile. Genetic analysis showed six highly divergent groupings from the high Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Taxonomic status and geographic divisions of the pampas cat require further study.

The pampas cat looks like a house cat with a broad face and long hair. Some individuals have long hair which can be as long as 7 cm, forms a dorsal mane along the back. The pampas cat’s appearance varies substantially in different parts of its range and can change with age. The back of the ears are often grey or black with a white spot and two brown bars run from the eyes across the cheeks. The tail is only half of the head and body length and can be marked by dark rings. The fur colour and pattern can be from yellowish-white to greyish brown and plain to patterned. In the high Andes, the pampas cat is often grey with red stripes and spots and looks very similar to the Andean cat (Leopardus jacobita), with which it is sometimes confused. The pink nose of the pampas cat is the most reliable distinguishing feature as the Andean cat’s nose is black. In the Argentine pampas, the coat of the pampas cat is longer and more yellow-brown with a light fur pattern. Melanistic forms are also known. 

Other names

Language/Country

Name

Argentina

gato de los pajonales, gato montés, gato colocolo, gato pajero

Bolivia

gato montés, gato peludo, titi, osqhollo

Brazil

gato palheiro

Chile

gato de los pajonales, gato montés, gato colocolo, gato pajero

Ecuador

gatillo

French

chat des Pampas

German

Pampaskatze

Paraguay

gato montés

Peru

gato montés, osjollo, chinchay, osio

Status and Distribution

There is little information on the pampas cat‘s status in the wild and on population estimates. In the IUCN Red List, the pampas cat is considered as Near Threatened. In Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil it is even classified as Vulnerable. In Uruguay, the species was considered extinct, but at present there are sporadic records in this country. In the Paraguayan Chaco, the pampas cat has been described as less common than the Geoffroy’s cat (Leopardus geoffroyi). The pampas cats occurring in Chile are thought to be the most endangered group due to their small geographic range. A camera trap study in the Emas National Park (Brazil) showed that the pampas cat is relatively common, but this could be a localized abundance. 

Generally, pampas cats are rare and reach densities of 0.05-0.2 animals/km². However, in the Puna eco-region and the High Andes (very good habitat), the Pampas cat seems to be able to reach high densities of 0.74-0.78 individuals/km². During the last decades, just a few records of the pampas cat were found in the pampas region of Argentina. Most of these were from a semi-arid climatic strip which runs as a continuation of the Andes into north-western and central Argentina. There are indications that the Pampas cat is regionally extinct in the Pampas grassland of central Argentina. In Espinal of central Argentina, a density of 0.11-0.17 individuals/km² was estimated. In the Pampas grasslands, Pantanal and Cerrado savannas in Brazil, the Pampas cat occurrs at quite lower densities of 0.01-0.05 animals/km². In protected areas in these regions it can, however, reach densitites of 0.1-0.2 individuals/km².

The pampas cat has a wide distribution which extends over large parts of South America. It lives in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Peru and marginally in south-western Colombia. The species seems to be rare in large parts of its range. In the Yungas eco-region (northwest Argentina) it is for example limited to high-altitude grasslands. In the Andes, the pampas cat occurs from 100 m up to an elevation of 5,000 m but most records are from lower elevations. In northern Argentina, the mean elevation for pampas cat records was around 3,567 m.

Extant distribution area of the Pampas cat (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016).

Habitat

Its name is derived from its typical association with the pampas. Nevertheless the pampas cat has broad habitat selectivity. It inhabits mainly open grasslands and shrub areas but occurs as well in dry open woodlands, thorn forest, cloud forest, floodplains, swampy areas, rocky sites and semi-arid cold deserts. It is absent in lowland rainforests. The pampas cat does not seem to tolerate altered habitats such as forest plantations and the fringes of agricultural and settled areas. 

Ecology and Behaviour

Pampas cat in the Monte desert.

There is little information available on the ecology of the pampas cat. It is terrestrial and hunts mainly on the ground. The pampas cat is mostly nocturnal in the high Andes, but in Brazil's Emas National Park, it was primarily diurnal and only occasionally crepuscular and nocturnal. A female pampas cat in the high Andes of Bolivia did not show a clear activity pattern and was active during all hours of the day. The home range of a collared male pampas cat in the Emas National Park averaged 19.47 +/- 3.64 km², whereas a female pampas cat monitored in the high Andes of Bolivia occupied an area of 55.3 km².

There is little information available on the reproductive behaviour of the pampas cat and most of it comes from captive animals. One captive female reproduced for the first time at the age of two years and the gestation period lasted 80-85 days. The breeding season of the pampas cat is from April to July in the northern hemisphere and the litter size ranges from 1-3 cubs.  

Prey

Pampas cats feed on a variety of small mammals such as guinea pigs and in particular small rodents like the leaf-eared mice (Phyllotis spp.) and the mountain vizcacha (Lagidium viscacia). It have been known to take flamingos and ground-dwelling birds. It has also been observed to raid penguin nests for eggs and chicks in Patagonia.

Main Threats

Stuffed pampas cat, Bolivia.
Stuffed pampas cats, Peru.

Since so little is understood about the status of the pampas cat, it is difficult to determine the extent to which populations are impacted by different threats.

The major threat for pampas cat throughout most of its range is thought to be habitat loss and degradation due to oil extraction, agricultural cropland and livestock grazing, resulting also in a reduction of its prey species. Other threats are retaliation killing for preying on poultry and hunting for cultural purposes mostly in the high Andes or for sport. On the one side, the pampas cat is respected as a sacred animal and like the Andean cat it is a symbol of earth and fertility. Encounters are thought to bring good luck and the killing of a pampas cat to bring bad luck and death to the hunter and his family. On the other hand, the skins of pampas cats or their stuffed bodies are used in cultural ceremonies for livestock and agriculture. Pampas cats are also killed in road accidents and predated by dogs. Genetic analysis in central Brazil showed that an area of hybridisation exists between the pampas cat and the Northern tiger cat (Leopardus tigrinus). 

Conservation Efforts and Protection Status

The pampas cat is included in Appendix II of CITES and is protected across most of its range. Hunting is prohibited in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador and Uruguay.

Important conservation actions are to further investigate the taxonomic status (one or more species?) of the pampas cat and to conduct further research regarding its behaviour, ecology and distribution to be able to plan conservation strategies more efficiently.