New photographic record of one of the world’s rarest wild cats

Andean cats—one of the world’s most elusive felines—have been captured on camera at a nature reserve in Chile for the first time.

Close-up footage of a female Andean cat (Leopardus Jacobita) and her cub was taken using motion-sensor camera traps in Los Flamencos National Reserve by researchers from National Corporation Forestal (CONAF), working in partnership with the Andean Cat Alliance (AGA).

The conservationists had long suspected that the rare carnivores inhabited the mountainous region of Northern Chile, but this is the first time that photographic evidence has confirmed it.

Very little is known about these small, sturdy felines, which resemble domestic tabby cats and live, hunt and breed in the harsh conditions of the Andes and Patagonia mountains. Prior to the discovery, there had been just 10 recorded sightings of Andean cats in 25 years across Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru.

Andean cats are considered the most endangered cat species in the Americas and are among the top five most threatened felines worldwide. According to AGA, the main threat to the Andean cat is loss and degradation of habitat due to mining, water extraction, unregulated tourism and unsustainable agricultural practices.

The Andean cat (Photo: CONAF/Andean Cat Alliance)
The Andean cat (Photo: CONAF/Andean Cat Alliance)

The new images provide a valuable insight into the lives of these mysterious wild cats, which will help conservationists to raise awareness of the species and ensure that it is better protected.

‘Certainly for us it is a great joy to have made this discovery in the highlands. It is very hard to detect this cat as it hunts at night and hides between rocks. For 20 years we have been studying this area and never made a sighting until now,’ said Maria Alejandra Saavedra, the ranger who discovered the footage.

Leading wild cat expert and founder of the Small Cat Conservation Alliance, Dr Jim Sanderson, added: ‘The Andean cat is by far the rarest and most endangered cat in the western hemisphere. The new record obtained by CONAF rangers in Los Flamencos reserve in Chile demonstrates Chile’s strong support of Andean cat conservation efforts.’