Hope For The Survival Of The Smallest Wildcat In America

Recent Research Gives Ecologists New Hope For The Survival of Chile’s ‘Little Tiger Cat’

In a research paper published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, researchers have given new hope to the vulnerable ‘little tiger cat’ called the güiña. This little feline, smaller than the average domestic cat with an adult length between 37 and 51cm, has been classified as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Living primarily in the temperate rain forests of central and southern Chile, the cat’s total population has been estimated to consist of solely 10 000 individuals in an ever-decreasing territory due to agricultural expansion. Indeed, according to  the BBC, over two thirds of Chile’s temperate rain forests have been cut down in a period of about 25 years.

The güiña is such a threatened species due to two human threats: our encroachment upon and division of their small territory, and our persecution of the small carnivores. The biggest hazard, the territorial threat, comes from the fragmentation into ever smaller portions of arable land, the habitat these little felines live in. As Dr. Nicolás Gálvez, from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de
Chile, told the BBC, “This is because there is a higher risk of human interaction and persecution in areas where there are more farms; a greater pressure on natural resources through increased
timber extraction and livestock grazing; and even competition for food from domestic animals kept as pets”.

The persecution Dr. Gálvez is referring to is the result of the güiña being viewed in many cases as a pest, because of its capacity to steal small livestock, such as chicken. As the University of Kent’s study revealed, 10% of the rural inhabitants of the güiña’s territory or territory’s border have killed one of the cats in the past. Although it is bad, the result shows that the greatest danger is coming from the territorial fragmentation.

However, the research has also shown that the small cat can acclimatize decently well to these changes in the landscape. It turns
out that the güiña can readily adapt to large agricultural territories, where part of the land tends to be unfarmed, thus providing shelter, food and rearing space for their young. The new study will no doubt aid ecologists to better understand and help not only the ‘little tiger cat’, but also many other species that find itself in a similar situation.

Image Source: Wikimedia

Virginia Rufina Marquez-Pacheco
Science & Tech Editor

Originally published in Bandersnatch Vol. 47 Issue 07 on January 24, 2018

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