Overview: The kodkod is, with the oncilla, the smallest wild cat in the Western Hemisphere and smaller than the average domestic cat. It is a spotted cat that inhabits montane and coniferous forests on the slopes of the Andes Mountains in Chile and Argentina. It feeds on rodents, lizards and birds and is classified by the IUCN Red List™ as Vulnerable at 2011. The main threat to survival is the loss of its habitat due to logging and the spread of pine forests.
The first topic of conversation in relation to the Kodkod is the name of this rare, small, wild cat. Jim Sanderson Ph.D. who is acknowledged as one of the top researchers of small cats and who works for Conservation International (and incidentally has his own charity, Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation) says that the common name that we use, Kodkod, is unheard of in the area where the cat is found. Jim cited the name Guigna and no one knew what he has talking about when he used the name Kodkod. People do not search for the less common names on the internet, hence the use of the name in this article.
Above: Kodkod – photo copyright Jim Sanderson Ph.D. Please respect copyright.
‘Guigna’ is name is the one used by the Araucanian Indians. The name in Chile is Guiña (see below). Jim says that the locals use the name, Guigna which means ‘thief’. I presume that this is after the cats ability to take food from under their noses or it may relate to livestock losses (it is reported to raid hen houses). This name incidentally is the French name (Guigna) [src: IUCN Red List]. Other names for this wildcat are:
- Chilean Cat
- Guina (Spanish name)
The latter name and the local name seem to reflect the scientific name: Leopardus guigna (another scientific name [a synonym] is Oncifelis guigna). There are two subspecies. I don’t know if this is significant but the scientific name was given by the naturalist and scientist, Juan Ignacio Molina b. 20 July, 1740, at Guaraculen near Talca (Chile); d. 23 Oct. (12 Sept.?), 1829) in Italy. Italy was his second home. In Italian the word “giugno” means “June”. It might be reasonable to suggest that this cat species was discovered in June 1782.
Kodkod reproduced from Wikimedia Commons library (see license). Wikipedia user: Lycaon.cl. Genetic tests confirm that this cat is closely related to Geoffroy’s Cat. One visual difference between the two can be seen on the head. The markings on the head of Geoffroy’s cat are usual distinct stripes, whereas on the Kodkod the markings are sometimes broken streaks.
OK down to slightly more serious work. As can be seen in Jim’s photograph this is another beautiful wild cat. It would seem that the wild cats have suffered at the hands of humankind because of their beauty. The more beautiful the coat the more eager we are to kill the animal. This cat has a fine spotted tabby coat (new window). There are many small dark spots against a muted, golden-yellowish background with a white underside. The coat ranges from brownish-yellow to grey-brown (src: Wikipedia)
The high contrast facial markings are striking in black and white. The short tail is heavily striped and thick, which is common it seems to a number of small wildcats (e.g., the Andean Cat, living at high elevations). The ears have a spot on the back of the ear flaps. Melanistic cats (black) are not that uncommon apparently. This cat can be found up to a maximum of about 2,500 meters (see habitat below). As to size and weight, this is the smallest wildcat in the Americas (north and south America). An adult weighs between 4.5 and 5.5 lbs (2-2.5 kg), which is at the small end of domestic cat weight (see Largest Domestic Cat Breed). This cat is between 16.5 and 20 inches (42-51 cms) in length and 10 inches at the shoulder. This cat is described as, “tiny” by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (Red List) and “diminutive by the authors of Wild Cats of The World.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ Assessment
The Kodkod is classified as Vulnerable as at 20 April 2014. It has been classified this way for the past 12 years which is encouraging but how accurate are Red List classifications?
The reason for this status in respect of threat in the wild is, in part, due to:
- restricted extent of occurrence (smallest distribution of Americas wild cats)
- fragmented area of occupancy
- a total population of adults at less than 10,000
- declining population of 30% over the last 18 years due to habitat loss (conversion to pine forest plantations), prey loss, persecution
- it is projected that the population decline will continue in the future
I think it worth mentioning a research project carried out by the Universidad Nacional del Sur Argentina, reported on in 2001, in which the team where involved in a conservation and research in respect of this wildcat and the Patagonia Mountain Forest.
They refer to this wild cat as “very endangered” and “in urgent need of help”. They make a good point. It is impossible to conserve what is unknown and not a great deal is known about this cat. The lack of information about the small wildcats is a topic I am obliged to return to because I sense that the Kodkod, as one example, might be more endangered than is made out by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. That is not in anyway to criticise this organisation.
In a research article published by Mastozoologia Neotropical, Journal of Neotropical Mammalogy, dated 2003, by Gerado Acosta-Jamett, Javier A. Simonetti, Ramiro O.Bustamante and Nigel Dunstone a conclusion drawn was that the main conservation strategy of South America to establish protected areas was not enough to preserve populations of wild carnivores that occur in low densities as is the case for the Kodkod. The point that was made is that the protected areas are too small to maintain viable populations.They say that no protected area in central coastal Chile would sustain a Kodkod population in the long term. What they also say, however, is that the protected areas could and should be joined up to enlarge them by forest corridors. Deforestation undermines this, though.
Range, Habitat and Ecology
Here is a map of the range. You can see a bigger version on this page: Kodkod Range
View Kodkod Range 2009 in a larger map
This cat is found almost exclusively in an area of Chile but also in the western edge of neighbouring Argentina, where is shares territory with Geoffroy’s Cat (see map below). The entire area in similar in size to that of Texas. In Chile its range extends from Santiago Province going south to the islands of Chiloé and the Guaitecas. In Argentina its range overs a small part of the country, the eastern Andes in the provinces of Neuquén, Rio Negro, Chubut and Santa Cruz.:
Above right is a thumbnail photo (published under a Creative Commons license (see below for license)). Calbuco volcano is within the range of the Kodkod cat. The map below shows this particular spot:
It is thought that the presence of the similar looking Geoffroy’s Cat might be a threat to the smaller Kodkod.
And below is the Island of of Chiloé, Chile, also where this cat is found. It is just south of Calbuco. On Chile’s Chiloe Island the landscape is largely rural as can be seen. Home ranges of 6.5 km² and 1.2 km² were found for females:
The photo (left) is a thumbnail (Published under CC license (see below)). And finally, the following photo is of the Forest of Araucaria, a moist temperate mixed forest of the southern Andean and Coastal ranges. Although the Kodkod prefers forest, and “corridors of forest” are seen as important for its survival in a landscape dominated by people, it is able to tolerate scrub and secondary forest.
This wild cat is thought to be “arboreal” (a tree and forest dweller).
This picture (left) is also a thumbnail. Published under CC license (see below).
The populations are fragmented. In central Chile, for example, there is an estimated overall population of 2,000 cats but in numerous subpopulations, with only as little as 10 cats in some subpopulations. The Red List considers high density populations as 1 individual (adult or sub-adult) per km². (Subpopulation means: A well-defined set of interacting individuals that compose a proportion of a larger, interbreeding metapopulation – src: www.stateofthesalmon.org/resources/glossary.asp)
This cat’s prey animals are:
- primarily small mammals – rodents
- a variety of birds including the Austral thrush, Southern lapwing (see photo below right), chucao tapaculo, huet huet, geese and chickens
These cats are active during the day and night. When making long distance movements in daytime it is usually under cover of vegetation. They can travel considerable distances quickly (e.g., up to 5 kilometres in an evening). When they rest, they do so under dense cover, on stumps of fallen trees or up trees. They are excellent climbers in keeping with all felines but do not hunt prey in trees but on the ground (terrestrial hunter). They are secretive.
The University of Argentina researchers mentioned above had difficulty in trapping this wildcat. In fact the first cat trapped after considerable effort was a Geoffroy’s Cat. Note that this research was being conducted in Argentina. I have taken the liberty to reproduce a picture (below) taken of the Geoffroy’s cat being released. This shows the cat being handled without, it seems, fear of being scratched or bitten. The picture also shows the size of the Geoffroy’s cat, a similar sized (and similar looking cat) but slightly larger cat than the Kodkod.
If the researchers would like to receive payment for the use of the picture above, please ask – go to PoC Admin and use the contact form. Update Sept 2015: the photo above and below are by Dr. Mariano Ciuccio, Cátedra de Anatomía Comparada, Dpto. Biología Bioquímica y Farmacia, Universidad Nacional del Sur, San Juan 670, 8000 – Bahía Blanca, Bs. As., Argentina.
The researchers were left with seeking answers to the questions as to how the ecology of these two cats separated (or whether they lived in harmony – my thought) and what impact the presence of the Geoffroy’s Cat had on the conservation of the Kodkod.The researchers admitted that there is a lack of knowledge regarding both cats and that their DNA is very similar to the point that they could be two subspecies of the same cat.
The researchers where more easily able to trap Culpeo foxes in their search for the Kodkod. Question: What impact does the fox have on the conservation of this small wildcat? However, they were able to successful trap and radio tag a Kodkod. Well done. It was exhausting work.
Above: Picture of a radio tagged Kodkod slinking back into the forest after being radio tagged. I have reproduced this picture without permission. I would like to donate to further research in payment. Please advise me how. The research team was: Mauro Lucherini, Mariano Ciuccio and Diego Castillo.
Threats and Conservation
- destruction of temperate moist forest (which this cat prefers) due to logging
- spread of pine forest (lower densities of Kodkod)
- seen as a nuisance in taking poultry and killed by farmers. Local people unreasonably consider the cat is damaging to their livelihood as there are relatively few cases of this cat raiding chicken coops and the coops are insufficiently protected. It would seem that a lot of cats are lost this way.
- protected areas although too small
- national parks
- farmers need to be encouraged to protect their chickens better and be educated on the vulnerability of this cat’s existence
- providing connecting forest to stop fragmentation where the forest is managed
- listed in CITES Appendix II ( lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled – src: CITES verbatim)
- protected by national legislation
There is lots of protection so why is the population in constant decline?
- IUCN Red List
- Jim Sanderson Ph.D. Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation
- Wild Cats Of The World
Photos of Chile are published under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs creative commons License — this site is for charitable purposes in funding cat rescue.