Friday, June 17, 2011

Helping the rarest cat in the Americas: Alianza Gato Andino

Andean Cat Alliance logo
Now I will cover Alianza Gato Andino (AGA, the Andean Cat Alliance), which works to save the Andean cat Leopardus (Oreailurus) jacobita, the most endangered North & South America cat.  Populations of this small high Andes cat (found above timberline) are very small and scattered, and densities are extremely low.  The cats are also extremely secretive.  This makes these cats extremely difficult to study, since field biologists have only spotted wild cats a few times and none are captive.  Many Andean cat researchers study the cat many years without ever seing one alive, or if so only a rare and fleeting glimpse.  That is a commitment beyond most people- I am not used to meeting researchers who have not seen their study species, yet remain so incredibly dedicated to their work.  It is a rare person that works so diligently saving a species they have never seen and may not ever see just because the researchers know it is important.  And so these researchers continue their work because it is more important the cat is safe than the cat is visible- the researchers labor on to save this cat (and one day maybe also catch a quick glimpse).

There are several reasons why the Andean cat is endangered.  Primarily it is endangered due to hunting.  It is also a sacred animal, which means it is used (dead) in various rituals.  It is additionally considered a pest sometimes since it preys on small domesticated animals.  The AGA works throughout the Andean cat's range to educate the local populace concerning the cat's importance and to protect and not kill them.

Andean cats are also rare because they eat mountain chinchillas preferentially.  Humans have hunted mountain chinchilla species to near extinction.  This situation forces Andean cats to hunt primarily mountain vizcachas.  Vizcachas have a more patchy occurrence and live colonially, which isolates different Andean cat populations and individuals and interrupts gene flow, which further exacerbates their decline.  Finally, like everywhere else, habitat destruction is a problem.  AGA also works to  protect crucial Andean cat habitat.  These preserves will also protect Andean cats' prey species.  Healthier prey species population sizes provide healthier predator population sizes also, and will provide corridors so Andean cats can move back and forth.  The resultant gene flow increase will additionally help the cats' long-term survival probabilities.

Since virtually nothing was known concerning this endangered cat until recently, AGA coordinates required research programs determining baseline data, including Andean cat abundances, what the cats eat, where the cats are found, and what major threats to cat survival are.  Without this data we would never have known what their wild status is or how to aid their recovery.  AGA continually increase our knowledge regarding these endangered cats through ongoing studies coordinated with their conservation goals, but AGA need your help to continue their desperately needed Andean cat preservation work .  If you find this little cat endearing like I do and would like to support AGA, do not hesitate to go here and send a donation their way.  AGA are doing vital work within challenging environments and always put any funds to extremely good use.

Want to see photos of Andean cats?

Want to learn more about Andean Cats?  Check out these links/books:

The American Society of Mammalogists has a Mammalian Species account on Andean cats.

Andean Cat: A Conservation Plan by Villalba et al.

The Andean Cat: A Conservation Action Plan by Villalba et al. was published by the AGA and is available for free download here.

Handbook of the Mammals of the World volume 1 Carnivores
The Handbook of the Mammals of the World, volume 1 Carnivores is an amazing book.  It is extremely pricey, but if you want to know anything concerning all the carnivores there is currently no better book.

Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids by David Macdonald and Andrew Loveridge
The Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids by David Macdonald and Andrew Loveridge is a must have if you are interested in cat conservation or biology.

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  1. I've never heard of the Andean cat before and I'm a huge cat fan.

  2. That's one of their biggest problems- I hadn't heard of them before I met the researchers from the Andean Cat Alliance either. Since nothing at all (past their existence) was known about them until AGA researchers started working on them, they are one of the few species of cats that still isn't even commonly known among people that know quite a lot about cats. But that is changing thanks to AGA, and since they are doing such great work I had to include them early on to help publicize their incredible work and phenomenal dedication!

  3. This is the first time that I have seen this cat.

  4. If you didn't posted this, I wouldn't know anything about the alliance. Even I love cats, I never heard of this before. Hope they can still reproduce the specie before they got wipe.