Hope for threatened ‘little tiger cat’

Güiña wildcat of Chile

It’s the smallest cat in the Americas, occupying the smallest area of land.

Listed as vulnerable to extinction, the güiña wildcat of Chile has lost much of its natural home as forests are chopped down or converted to farmland.

And, like many carnivores, it’s at risk from human persecution over fears it might kill livestock.

However, new research shows the animal is able to survive near human settlements on agricultural land.

Its biggest threat is being squeezed out when land is broken up into smaller areas, say conservationists.

The guiña is known variously as the little tiger cat, little spotted cat or Chilean cat. About half the size of the domestic cat, it is one of the most threatened cat species in South America.

The wildcat lives only in central and southern Chile and in a narrow strip of Argentina. According to the IUCN, there are only about 10,000 individuals left in the wild.

Its natural habitat is rainforest, but it has also been seen in pine or eucalyptus plantations or close to agricultural areas.

Research led by the University of Kent, UK, found that habitat fragmentation, and the subdivision of large farms into smaller ones, are the biggest threats facing the animal.

Questionnaires showed that 10% of rural inhabitants had killed a güiña over the last decade.

“This suggests that persecution is much less of a threat to their survival than the subdivision of farms,” said Prof Zoe Davies, from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent.

The research published in the Journal of Applied Ecology provides a clearer picture of how habitat loss, land fragmentation and human interactions together affect the survival of a species such as the wildcat.

The approach could be used to help with conservation efforts for small to medium-sized carnivores in other parts of the world.

About Elise Weatherall

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