Monitoring Wild Cats

Gato de Geoffroy | Foto: Miguel Fuentealba

Wild Cats

Various small felines inhabit our country, including Geoffroy’s cat, the pampas cat, and the güiña (or kodkod). Unfortunately, there is little information known about these species, making it more difficult to create strategic conservation plans. With the goal of improving our knowledge, we are carrying out ecological and wildlife evaluations of these species, particularly in Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park and Patagonia National Park. These efforts include monitoring focused on the habitat, distribution, population health, and genetic status of these cats, information that will help us improve our small feline conservation and handling.

As part of these initiatives, we plan to install camera traps, and––once we’ve identified high-density areas––plan to use live capturing and GPS/VHF collars to monitor the felines’ routines, ranges, and habitats.

Species characteristics

Güiña

Of all the neotropical cats, the güiña is the smallest in South America and one of the smallest in the world, weighing an average of 4 to 5.5 pounds. It is a solitary animal with nocturnal habits, and frequently spends much of its time in the trees.

Two subspecies have been identified. The first is the Leopardus guigna trigillo, an endemic species found between Coquimbo and Biobio, where it dwells in bushy Mediterranean forests and sclerophyllous forests, and typically has both a lighter coat and a larger body size. The second is the Leopardus guigna guigna, found between the Araucancía and Aysén regions, and also in Argentina.

The güiña is very similar to Geoffroy’s cat, leading to the two sometimes being confused. Nevertheless, there are marked differences. The güiña’s face is smaller, and its tail is thicker and shorter (a quarter of the güiña’s total body length, as opposed to a third in the case of Geoffroy’s cat). Additionally, the species do not occupy the same habitat: Geoffroy’s cat is found in more open environments, and its distribution in Chile is limited to the Patagonic areas of Aysén and Magallanes.

The güiña has one of the most restricted geographic distributions of any feline in the world, given that it is found only in Chile and Argentina. In Chile, its habitat ranges from Coquimbo to the south of Cochrane (Aysén). It mostly dwells in forests and higher-density bushy areas, which provide better coverage.

Gato Güiña | Foto: Maricela Núñez Montecinos

Geoffroy’s cat

Geoffroy’s cat is a medium-sized feline weighing 6.5 to 11 pounds. It is generally a yellowish-gray, with a large number of small specks or black spots on its flanks, which join together in lines along the neck and extremities. Its tail, which has a series of narrow black rings, is moderately long––generally a third of the feline’s total length. The cat is a skilled climber, resting in trees or other dense vegetation during the day. It is also an excellent swimmer.

The species’ range includes Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, eastern Bolivia, and southern Brazil and Chile. In Chile, it has been found in transitional zones between the forest and Patagonian steppe at up to 3,200 feet above sea level in the Araucanía, Aysén, and Magallanes regions. The feline generally lives in dense shrub, scrubland and herbaceous Patagonian steppe, pampas grasslands, dry forests, and, to a lesser extent, temperate Nothofagus forests.

Gato de Geoffroy | Foto: Miguel Fuentealba

Pampas cat

The pampas cat is a small feline, weighing 4.5 to 8 pounds and measuring 20.5 to 28 inches in length, with a 11.5 to 12.5 inch-long tail. Due to its wide distribution, the coloration of its fur varies widely, though yellowish-brown and reddish tones dominate in the Chilean subspecies.

The pampas cat can be found on both sides of the Andes, from Ecuador (and parts of the south of Colombia) to the Strait of Magellan. In Chile, three subspecies have been identified: Leopardus colocolo garleppi, which dwells between the northern border with Peru and the Antofagasta Region, usually in highlands and foothills; Leopardus colocolo colocolo, which is endemic to central Chile and can be found from Coquimbo to Concepción; and Leopardus colocolo pajeros, a subspecies widely distributed in the Argentinean Patagonia that can also be found in Aysén and Magallanes.

In general, the subspecies in central Chile is the best-known. It is distinguished by the gray fur and blackish line along its back and reddish-brown spots along the side of its body. Its forelimbs are yellowish-brown, with striking brownish lines. Its tail is a shade of gray similar to the fur on its back, with dark rings, and measures roughly a quarter of the cat’s total length (nose to tail tip). The pampas cat’s nose is light-colored, usually pink. It is solitary, nocturnal, and terrestrial.

Pampas cat | Photo: Franco Elgueta R.