South America is the continent that is home to some of the most beautiful, uncommon, and endangered species of wild cats in the world. These cats range from the regal jungle Jaguar to the adorable Kodkod.
The Jaguar, also known as Panthera Onca, is the only big cat species that is indigenous to the western hemisphere and is the third-largest of the four big cats that belong to the genus Panthera. Jaguars are characterised by their rosette-patterned coats, relatively short tails, and extraordinarily strong bites, which allow them to effectively hunt armoured reptiles like as caimans and turtles. Jaguars may reach weights of up to 160 kilogrammes (350 pounds) and can live up to 20 years.
Jaguars are considered to be in a state of Near Threatening by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Even though their current range only covers about one-half of what it used to, these large cats, which frequently live alone, can still be found from southern Arizona in the United States all the way down to Paraguay and northern Argentina. Generally speaking, jaguars may be found farther south, where they are known to reach bigger sizes.
Once upon a time, the brilliantly patterned Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) was sought for its fur in large numbers. As a consequence of the fact that the population of the species looked to be decreasing, between the years 1972 and 1996, it was designated as a Vulnerable endangered species. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species currently lists ocelots as a species of “Least Concern,” thanks in large part to the concomitant prohibition on the trade of ocelot fur. These secretive cats spend the most of their time in the dark.
Ocelots usually weigh between 8 and 18 kilogrammes (about 18 to 40 lb), however they have been known to sometimes reach bigger sizes. Zoologists have separated these extremely territorial cats into ten distinct subspecies, and the species as a whole has a range that extends from the southern states of Texas and Arizona, through Mexico and the Amazon rainforest, and into the temperate woods of northern Argentina.
The Jaguarundi, also known as the Eyra Cat (Puma yagouaroundi), is not a little Jaguar as some people may believe… This is made very evident by contrasting the two visually. Jaguarundis have shorter legs, smaller and more rounded ears, and lack the striped and spotted coats that are typical of most wild cats. In addition, their fur is solid brown rather than spotted or striped. The Jaguarundi, in contrast to other wild cats native to South America, has an unusually high number of chromosomes—38, as opposed to the more typical number of 36.
The Jaguarundi is a species that is classified as Least Threatened; its weight ranges from from 3.5 to 9.1 kg (7.7 to 20 lb) and its primary activity pattern is diurnal (day-active). Jaguarundis may have either a dark charcoal to brownish-gray or a more reddish tint for their coat, despite the fact that their fur lacks patterns for the most part. Their coats can be any of these two hues. They inhabit the coastal parts of Mexico all the way down to Central America, as well as the majority of the lowland sections of South America, and may be found as far south as the Plate River, which is close to Buenos Aires.
The Geoffroy’s Cat, or Leopardus geoffroyi, is endemic to the dry scrub woods of the southern cone of South America. It may be found in practically every portion of Argentina, as well as the Chaco regions of Paraguay and Bolivia. These tawny spotted cats range in size from around 60 centimetres (24 inches) in length to approximately 2 to 5 kilogrammes (4.4 to 11 pounds), with the occasional specimen reaching a maximum weight of 7.8 kilogrammes (17 lb). Kittens of the Geoffroy’s Cat are born without eyes and mature more slowly than newborns of domestic cats; they do not open their eyes until roughly 19 days after birth.
Prior to the late 1980s, Geoffroy’s Cats were killed for their fur; however, after that time, hunting them was made illegal in the majority of South American nations, and trading was forbidden due to a listing on CITES Appendix 1 of the species. The IUCN now classifies the Geoffroy’s Cat as a Near Threatened species owing to the constraints that human activities place on its natural environment. In light of the aforementioned, those who are searching for an exotic trait in their future feline companion may want to think about getting a Safari Cat, which is a combination of the domestic cat and the Geoffroy’s Cat.
The Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita), as its name suggests, lives in the steep Andes Mountains of South America. However, it can only be found in locations that are well irrigated and range in height from around 3,500 to 4,800 metres (11,500 to 15,700 feet). There are only around 2,500 Andean Mountain Cats left in the wild, according to estimates, and the IUCN classifies them as an endangered species. At the time of this publication, there were no Andean Mountain Cats living in captivity.
Even though it weighs only about 5.5 kilogrammes (12 lb), or about the same as a domestic house cat, the Andean Mountain Cat is a western hemisphere analogue of the more well-known and much larger Snow Leopard of the Asian Himalayas. The Snow Leopard lives in the mountains of Asia and is known for its large size. Andean Mountain Cats are characterised by their silvery grey fur, which is marked with darker patches and stripes due to their alpine habitat. The most notable characteristic of this animal is its long, thick tail, which is ringed with black and silver.
About 14,000 of these nocturnal (night-active) cats are trapped and slaughtered for the fur trade every year. The Margay (Leopardus wiedii) is a tiny rainforest cat that has been and continues to be abused for its gorgeous hair. The Margay is a species of cat that can be found in forested regions stretching from the coast of northwestern Mexico all the way down to southern Brazil and Uruguay. It can weigh anywhere from 2.6 to 4 kilogrammes (5.7 to 8.8 pounds), and unlike almost every other species of cat, females only have two teats.
Margays have developed extensive adaptations for life in tropical rainforests; in fact, some individuals may spend their whole lives under the canopy of trees. The ankles of the cat are very flexible, allowing for a wide range of motion. Just like the Clouded Leopard, Margays are able to descend from trees head-first by descending straight down the trunks of the trees while clutching them with their claws. One more interesting fact about margays: researchers have seen margays imitate the sounds of the Wild Pied Tamarin (Saguinus bicolor), a kind of tiny monkey that the margay hunts for food.
The Pampas Cat, or Leopardus pajeros, may be found over most of western South America. Despite its name, this species of cat is adaptable and can live in a broad variety of environments, not only the pampas of Argentina. This little South American wild cat has been divided by zoologists into five separate subspecies. These subspecies demonstrate notable differences in average size as well as the colours and patterns of their hair, which led to its classification.
There has not been a lot of research done on Pampas Cats, but it is thought that these Near Threatened cats, which are mostly nocturnal, hunt birds and mice for a living. In addition to this, there have been instances of Pampas Cats preying against commercial poultry businesses and farms. Pampas Cats are well-adapted to cold weather and are the only native cat to dwell in the most southernmost part of Patagonia, which is close to Tierra del Fuego. This makes them one of the most southernly cats in South America.
The Oncilla is a species of wild cat that belongs to the genus Leopardus and is also known as the Tiger Cat and the Tigrillo. It weighs between 1.5 and 3 kilogrammes (3.3 to 6.6 lb) and has spots on its body. Oncillas are endemic to the wooded regions of the whole country of Brazil, as well as sections of the forested regions of several of Brazil’s neighbouring countries, ranging from Costa Rica in Central America to parts of northern Argentina. Oncillas are smaller than ocelots and margays, and their muzzles are more pointed than those of the other two species.
Oncillas have historically been hunted for their pelts, which is one of the reasons why the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers this wild feline to be in a vulnerable population status. In addition, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has classified the oncilla as an Appendix I species. This classification indicates that the international trade of oncillas or items derived from them is severely forbidden. In spite of this, the hunting of oncillas is still sanctioned by law in the countries of Ecuador, Guyana, Nicaragua, and Peru.
Not to be overlooked in any way is the Kodkod, which comes in last (Leopardus guigna). The Kodkod, also known as the Guigna, is the smallest cat native to South America and “enjoys” the lowest geographic range. It weighs between 4.4 and 5.5 pounds (2.0 to 2.5 kilogrammes) on average and stands around 25 centimetres (9.8 inches) at the shoulder. There are two recognised subspecies of the Kodkod, both of which are found mostly in the wooded regions of central and southern Chile as well as the neighbouring regions of Argentina.
Kodkods are easily differentiated from other species due to the size of their heads, feet, and tails. The base colour of their fur is a golden tan, and it is covered in a variety of patches ranging from dark brown to black. In 2002, the IUCN designated the kodkod as a vulnerable species, and despite this designation, the animal is still imperilled by logging activities that intrude onto the primary habitat in which it lives. It is believed that there are less than 10,000 adult Kodkods in the world’s entire population of these creatures.
The wild cats of South America, despite their endearing appearance, should be allowed to retain their natural state since, despite the efforts of professional breeders, they are wild cats. However, there is a choice available for those who are interested in keeping a South American cat as a pet. The Brazilian Shorthair is a domestic cat breed that was just recently recognised in 1998 and is known for being an excellent companion. Brazilian Shorthairs, such as Jean Grey (above), are the product of a half-millennium of acclimatisation to South America and South Americans. They are descended from cats that were brought to Brazil by the first Portuguese colonists more than 500 years ago and were refined from Brazil’s distinctive street cats.