Rio Meow: 9 Amazing Wild Cats Of South America

Geoffroy’s Cat

(image via: Arjan Haverkamp)

Geoffroy’s Cat (Leopardus geoffroyi) is native to the arid scrub forests of South America’s southern cone, being found in nearly all parts of Argentina and the Chaco regions of Paraguay and Bolivia. Averaging 60 cm (24 in) in length, these tawny spotted cats weigh roughly 2 to 5 kg (4.4 to 11 lb) with the rare individual tipping the scales at up to 7.8 kg (17 lb). Geoffroy’s Cat kittens are born blind and develop more slowly than newborn domestic cats, not opening their eyes until approximately 19 days of age.

(images via: DeviantArt/~Alannah-Hawker and Chris Barella)

Geoffroy’s Cats were hunted for their fur until the late 1980s, after which hunting them was banned in most South American countries and trade was prohibited under a CITES Appendix 1 listing. Nowadays the IUCN lists Geoffroy’s Cat as Near Threatened due to pressures on their native habitat from human activities. With that said, pet-owners looking for something wild in their next cat might consider the Safari Cat, a feline hybrid between the Geoffroy’s Cat and the domestic cat.

Andean Mountain Cat

(image via: Rare Species Fund)

As its name infers, the Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita) lives in South America’s rugged Andes Mountains but only in well-watered areas from around 3,500 to 4,800 m (11,500 to 15,700 ft) in altitude. This extremely rare cat is listed as Endangered by IUCN and its estimated only 2,500 or so exist in the wild – at press time there were no Andean Mountain Cats in captivity.

(images via: Wikipedia/Jim Sanderson and Felidae Fund)

The Andean Mountain Cat is a western hemisphere analogue of the better-known and much larger Snow Leopard of the Asian Himalayas, though the former weighs only around 5.5 kilograms (12 lb) or about the same as a domestic house cat. Living above the tree line, Andean Mountain Cats are silvery gray in color with darker spots and stripes. It’s most distinguishing feature is its long, thick tail ringed with black and silver.


(image via: Wandering Gaia)

The Margay (Leopardus wiedii) is a small rainforest cat that has been and continues to be exploited for its beautiful fur – about 14,000 of these nocturnal (night-active) cats are caught and killed for the fur trade annually. Found in forested regions extending from coastal northwestern Mexico down to southern Brazil and Uruguay, the Margay weighs from 2.6 to 4 kg (5.7 to 8.8 lb) and unlike almost all other cats, females have only two teats.

(images via: National Geographic and Volunteer Conservation Peru)

Margays are highly adapted to living in lush rainforests and some individuals may live their entire lives in the trees. The cat’s ankles are exceptionally flexible offering a high range of motion: like the Clouded Leopard, Margays can descend from trees head-first by walking straight down the trunks while gripping them with their claws. One more bit of Margay trivia: researchers have observed Margays imitating the calls of the Wild Pied Tamarin (Saguinus bicolor), a small primate prey species, in order to lure them closer!