The elusive Andean cat surprised conservationists after one was caught in a camera trap near the Chilean capital of Santiago.
As stated in the Guardian, the Andean cat is the most endangered feline in the Americas. With a declining population of less than 1,400 mature individuals, the images herald a signal as they confirm a new population living near humans.
“We’ve never found a population so close to a big city before,” said Bernardo Segura, a volunteer with the nonprofit Andean Cat Alliance (AGA), a coalition of environmentalists who coordinate their efforts to through Chile, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia.
A screenshot from Segura’s camera trap shows the Andean cat camouflaged against the rocks (Bernardo Segura).
“This changes what we know about Andean cats and may offer solutions to protect this species and others in the wider mountain ecosystem, which is greatly under-studied. Find one of the most elusive animals in the world. world just outside of Santiago vividly illustrates this. “
Until now, Andean cats were believed to only live in rocky terrain extremely far from cities. But after seeing a slew of cat’s favorite prey – rodents called Mountain Vizcachas – around the popular Parque Mahuida nature reserve on the outskirts of Santiago, Segura trusted a hunch and in February set camera traps at- above the district of La Reina, about 2.5 km. from the city.
In July, he got his first images of an Andean cat. Since then, his camera has taken around 40 more. “So far we have identified at least three adult individuals passing continuously, suggesting that this is the heart of their territory and not just a chance encounter. For many of the cats, living so close to a huge city will open many doors for research. Field trips are usually complicated, remote and difficult to access, but I can see this site from my own apartment with a long lens. “
Having easy access to a population will help AGA tackle key issues in Andean cat conservation, including collecting droppings, or faeces, for genetic analysis. It’s hard to find in their other known habitats – huge territories stretching over the highest Andean peaks and the northern part of the Patagonian Steppe in Argentina. Previous research had identified five populations that were highly fragmented between the four countries, stretching north to south between Peru and Argentina.
“A primary objective is to determine whether these Andean cat populations are related or isolated,” said AGA general coordinator Dr Rocío Palacios, feline specialist for the International Union for Conservation of Nature.