Rio Meow: 9 Amazing Wild Cats Of South America

Pampas Cat

(image via: ZooChat)

The Pampas Cat (Leopardus pajeros) is relatively widespread in western South America and its name notwithstanding, the cat can occupy a number of varied habitats not limited to the pampas of Argentina. Zoologists have classified this small South American wild cat into five distinct subspecies which display obvious variations in both average size and the colors & patterns of their fur.

(images via: BushWarriors/Marcio Motta and ZooChat)

Pampas Cats have not been extensively studied but it’s believed these mainly nocturnal, Near Threatened cats prey on birds and rodents. There have also been reports of Pampas Cats raiding commercial poultry operations and farms. One of South America’s most southerly cats, Pampas Cats are well-acclimated to cold weather and are the only native cat to live in southernmost Patagonia near Tierra del Fuego.


(image via: Why Evolution Is True)

The Oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus) is a small (1.5 to 3 kg or 3.3 to 6.6 lb) spotted wild cat that is also known as the Tiger Cat or Tigrillo. Oncillas are native to forested areas in the entirety of Brazil and in some parts of neighboring nations from Costa Rica in Central America down to portions of northern Argentina. Oncillas resemble Ocelots and margays but are smaller and their muzzles are narrower.

(images via: Zoo Peru/Dr Stephen Van Mil and Arkive/Gerard Lacz)

Oncillas have traditionally been hunted for their pelts and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified this wild feline as Vulnerable. In addition, CITES has declared the Oncilla to be an Appendix I species, meaning all international commerce in Oncillas or products made from them is strictly prohibited. Even so, hunting of the Oncilla is still legally permitted in Ecuador, Guyana, Nicaragua, and Peru.


(image via: BBC America)

Last but not least, in some respects, is the Kodkod (Leopardus guigna). Averaging 2 to 2.5 kg (4.4 to 5.5 lb) in weight and stading roughly 25 cm (9.8 in) in height at the shoulder, the Kodkod (or Guigna) is South America’s smallest cat and it “enjoys” the smallest geographic distribution. Two declared subspecies of the Kodkod live mainly in forested areas of central and southern Chile and in adjacent areas of Argentina.

(images via: Arkive/Jim Sanderson & Fernando Vidal, Felidae Fund and Tunturisusi)

Kodkods can be distinguished by their small heads, large feet, and thick tails. Their fur is a tawny golden hue overlaid by many dark brown to black spots. The IUCN classified the Kodkod as Vulnerable in 2002 and the species remains under threat from logging operations that encroach upon its prime habitat. It’s estimated that the total population of Kodkods is fewer than 10,000 mature individuals.

(image via: PetsLady/Creature Features)

Cute as they may be, South America’s wild cats are exactly that: WILD… and efforts from reputable breeders aside they should stay that way. There is an option, however, for those who would like a South American cat as a pet. The Brazilian Shorthair is a recently (1998) recognized breed of domestic cat that makes an ideal pet. Descended from cats brought to Brazil over 500 years ago by the first Portuguese colonists and refined from Brazil’s distinctive street cats, Brazilian Shorthairs like Jean Grey (above) are the product of a half-millennium of acclimatization to South America and South Americans.