Why is the Andean mountain cat endangered?

The Andean cat (otherwise known as the Andean mountain cat) is classified by the IUCN Red List as Endangered. This classification is just before Critically Endangered and after Vulnerable.

Andean mountain cat
Andean mountain cat. Photo believed to be in the public domain.
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The reason why this small wild cat species is endangered is as follows. The population is decreasing to an estimated number of mature individuals of 1,378. The population is severely fragmented and there is a continuing decline of mature individuals.

It is believed that there are 10 subpopulations, with the largest number of individual cats in one subpopulation being 172. The last count of the number of cats in this species was in April 2014. The true figure today in 2019 is likely to be lower which is likely to push classification of it survivability to Critically Endangered in due course, in my estimate.

Fragmentation of population is a threat on its own because you develop small pockets of mature adults and there comes a time when inbreeding is a threat amongst those individual cats. Inbreeding can create inbreeding depression which describes unhealthy cats due to a lack of genetic diversity.

The threats to this cat’s survival in the wild include hunting and trapping, farming and ranching, oil and gas drilling, mining and quarrying, habitat shifting and alteration and droughts due to climate change. All are human-generated threats.

The main threat is considered to be habitat loss and habitat degradation. This is followed by opportunistic hunting and hunting as a tradition. The third threat is a reduction of prey populations which this means the animal that this cat species feeds on is reducing in numbers

The Andean cat’s habitat is being altered by an expansion in agriculture including water extraction and growing mining and petroleum industry activity in the South American Highlands and the Patagonian steppe. In addition failure by farmers to protect their livestock means that the Andean cat is killed by farmers in retaliation for the cat killing livestock.

Local people hunt the Andean cat because it is, as mentioned, a predator of small domestic livestock. Also the cat is killed by herders in Patagonia in retaliation for predation. Andean cats are also killed by dogs accompanying shepherds and also the cat is hunted for food and for traditional medicine in central Peru.

The short-tail Chinchilla was a major prey species for the Andean cat but it was hunted to near extinction and now the main prey item for this cat is the Vizcacha, a rodent.

Photo in public domain.

This prey item is also being reduced by hunting pressure putting further pressure upon the cat’s arrival. It may result in a highly fragmented distribution of the Andean cat. Finally, another small wild cat species, the Pampas Cat, competes with the Andean cat for mountain Vizcacha prey.

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