- 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)
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, 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.
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.
On Chile’s Chiloe Island, home ranges were 6.5 sq km and 1.2 sq km for females. Radio collared cats in a national park on the mainland had home ranges of 1.3 sq km for males and 1 sq km for females.
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.
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.
These tiny cats are considered pests by the local people, as the larger males often take free-ranging chickens and geese. There is no record of females taking domestic poultry, preying instead on small rodents and insects. Researchers found that 81% of households interviewed considered these small felines ‘damaging’ or ‘very damaging.’
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.
Involving local people in the field research project did a great deal to increase their respect for this cat. Few of them had actually seen a live Kodkod. When they learned the little felines ate mice and rats, the people became their staunchest defenders.
In the middle of the 19th century, Kodkods were described by A. Philippi as abundant in the area of central coastal Chile. They would apparently come into town and steal chickens, and there were melanistic individuals in that population.
The population status in the wild is unknown, but their very restricted geographical range probably means that 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.
Much of their southern range on Chile is relatively free of human disturbance, but in the central portion of the country there has been substantial habitat loss with much of the native forest being replaced with less suitable pine plantations.
Photo Dr. Jim Sanderson
Range Map IUCN Red List 2008