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Kodkod

leopardus guina

endangered cats

  • HB Length: 37-51 cm (14-20″)
  • Tail Length: 20-25 cm (8-9.8″)
  • Height: Unknown
  • Weight: 1.5-3 kg (3.3-6.6 lbs)
  • Pop. Trend: Decreasing

Kodkods Leopardus guigna are not only the smallest wild felid in the western hemisphere, but they rival the Black-footed Cat Felis nigripes and Rusty-spotted Cat Prionailurus rubiginosus as the smallest wild cat species in the world. They are quite similar in appearance to the Geoffroy’s Cat Leopardus geoffroyi with which they share their distribution in Argentina, but are smaller, and have a smaller face and a thicker tail.

The word Kodkod is the Araucanian Indian name for this cat, but local people call them the Guiña.

The ground colour of the coat varies from light grey and grey brown to buff or dusky brown, marked with small, roundish black spots. There are a few narrow black bands on the neck and crown, and the  underparts are whitish. Their head is small with indistinct lines above the eyes and on the cheeks, and a white area around the eyes. The ears are relatively large and rounded, the backs of which are blackish and marked with a white central spot. Their legs are short, and the foot pads fairly large with black soles. The tail is short, only about one third of the head‑body length, and marked with 10 ‑ 12 conspicuous black rings, and a black tip. Like the Andean Cat Leopardus jacobitus the tail of the Kodkod is very bushy, growing wider towards the tip. Melanistic individuals are known to occur.

There appear to be two distinctive forms. The race which occurs in central Chile is plain in colouration with no spots on their feet, and are larger than the race living in the southern part of their range. The southern animals are also more brightly coloured and have spots on their feet.

Distribution

kodkod range map

Kodkods have the smallest distribution of any cat in the Americas, and occur only in Central and Southern Chile, with marginal populations in adjoining areas of Argentina. In the Patagonian Mountain Forest of Argentina, the Kodkod population was found to be lower than what has been reported in Chile. This is likely due to the presence of the slightly larger Geoffroy’s Cat in the same area.

These cats are strongly associated with moist temperate mixed forests of the Andean and Coastal ranges, and range up to the treeline at 1,900 to 2,500 m.

In central Chile, most of the native forest has been replaced by plantations.  A study in 1999-2004 of two coastal areas found that Kodkods preferred dense scrub habitats, far from roads and near protected forest patches.  Researchers found lower densities in plantation forest, which was only used if it was close to  native forest or had native forest regeneration in the understory. The study estimated about 2,000 cats in 24 different subpopulations.

Their status in southern Chile is more secure, where human activity is less and there are several large protected areas. Researchers (2002) found the average home range to be 269 hectares with considerable overlap of ranges and core areas. The population was estimated to be a relatively high 1 cat/km2.

The study confirmed the strong habitat association with forests previously reported for this species, but also found other habitats types used by at least one of the Kodkods. This flexibility may explain why their ranges overlap and populations reach high densities locally. This adaptability may be very relevant to the long term survival of these cats in an increasingly human-dominated landscape.

On Chile’s Chiloe Island (1997), home ranges were 6.5 km2 and 1.2 km2 for females. Radio collared cats in a national park on the mainland had home ranges of 1.3 km2 for males and 1 km2 for females.

Ecology

These tiny cats are forest dependent, and prefer areas of thick understory, but occasionally may use a variety of open scrub forest habitat. They show no tolerance of altered habitats and have never been found in cleared forests. Some cover, such as trees or shrub areas, is required for these little cats to survive.

Kodkods are nocturnal only in the presence of humans, and are naturally active day and night if undisturbed. They are terrestrial for the most part, although they have well developed climbing abilities, sheltering in the trees during the day and when pursued.  One field study in the Kodkod’s preferred forest type found a high diversity of mouse sized rodents, but few larger mammals. This is another example of animals adjusting to a particular niche, as these little cats inhabit areas where larger carnivores are scarce.

On Chiloe Island subsistence farmers have cleared much of the land, and the cats are only found in small corridors of brush left standing to divide fields and along roads. Kodkods will cross the roads only when the trees cast dark shadows. In this heavily fragmented landscape, males must roam further and further to locate females, which unfortunately brings them into contact with humans.

Reproduction

Little is known of the Kodkod’s reproductive behavior. Gestation is thought to be 72 – 78 days, and one to three kittens are born. One female reached sexual maturity at 24 months. They have been known to live over 11 years in captivity but they have not been studied under captive conditions. While there are currently no captive Kodkods in zoos, there is one private project in Chile that has several cats at their facility and are attempting to breed these small felines.

Conservation

The population status in the wild is unknown, but their very restricted geographical range probably means there are a limited number of individuals.  While their small size has saved them from being sought extensively for the fur trade, they are often caught in traps set out for foxes.

The major threat to the Kodkod is logging of its temperate moist forest habitat, and the spread of pine forest plantations and agriculture, particularly in central Chile. They are also viewed negatively as a poultry predator, with 81% of 43 families interviewed in a rural area of southern Chile considering it “damaging or very damaging”, although there was only a single recent report of a Kodkod killing 12 hens in a henhouse.

On Chiloe Island, two of the five radio-collared cats were killed while raiding chicken coops. Researchers found that the local people believed this little cat was a vampire, sucking the blood of its prey. This error resulted from their finding two puncture marks on the neck of domestic poultry, which were actually the punctures from the cats’ canine teeth.

The most important conservation measure for this species is providing connectivity between native forest patches across areas currently under management as plantation forest.  Further studies are required on the species ecology, demographics, natural history, and threats.

See also Human Attitudes Towards Wild Felids in Chile

BBC Wildlife video on the Kodkod Cat

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Range Map IUCN Red List 2008

Updated 2014

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