Once thought to exclusively inhabit its namesake mountain range, the threatened Andean cata house cat-sized feline that resembles a small snow leopard in both appearance and habitatalso frequents the Patagonian steppe at much lower elevations, according to a new study published by the Wildlife Conservation Society and partners.
The finding represents a range extension for the Andean cat, which normally occurs at altitudes above 3,000 meters (approximately 9,800 feet). The new survey presents evidence of the cats occurring at elevations as low as 650 meters (approximately 2,100 feet) on the Patagonian steppe. The species is listed as "Endangered" on the World Conservation Union's Red List and may number only 2,500 individuals throughout its entire range.
The study appears in the recent edition of CATNews. The authors include: Andres Novaro and Lorena Rivas of the Wildlife Conservation Society and CONICET, Argentina; Susan Walker of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Rocio Palacios of Alianza Gato Andino; Sebastian di Martino of Department of Protected Areas of the Province of Neuqun; Martin Monteverde of Centro de Ecologa Aplicada del Neuqun; Sebastian Canadell of Universidad Nacional de Cordoba; and Daniel Cossios of Universit de Montral.
"These confirmed records show the lowest elevations ever reported for the Andean cat," said WCS conservationist Andres Novaro, lead author of the study. "According to genetic studies underway led by Daniel Cossios, this new population appears to represent an evolutionary lineage distinct from the highland population."
Prompted by a lone photograph of two Andean cats in the foothills of central Argentina, the research team surveyed approximately 31,000 square kilometers (approximately 12,000 square miles) of Argentina's Mendoza and Neuqun provinces in 2007-2009. The team collected samples from several locations that included scat, skulls, and skin, all of which were confirmed with DNA
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Wildlife Conservation Society