Salt Cat

Small, spotted and ghost like are perfect descriptors when talking about one of South America’s smallest wild cats, a cat that most people have likely never heard of. On January 28th the first ever World Geoffroy’s Cat Day will be celebrated in hopes of bringing much needed awareness to this lesser known feline and, the ongoing conservation efforts focused on helping to ensure the species survival.

Widespread throughout South America, and specifically found in the Andes of southern Bolivia, southern Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and southern Chile, the Geoffroy’s cat:

  • Is a highly adaptable hunter and primarily nocturnal.
  • Can be found living in forests, grasslands and even wetlands.
  • Has earned the nickname the “salt cat” or “salt desert cat”, in German, as it also has been found to reside in arid and semi-arid areas like the salt flats of Bolivia.
  • Has often been mistaken for a house cat due its size, which ranges from 6-13lbs,  and coat which has black spots with various color backgrounds including yellows, browns and silvery grays depending on where they live.
  • Survives mostly on rodents, but substitutes its diet with birds, fish, amphibians and other small mammals.
  • Are great climbers and have been known to be good swimmers with one female in Chile have been documented crossing 30 meter wide fast-flowing river at least 20 times.

Once heavily hunted, in the 70’s up to the mid 80’s, for their fur the Geoffroy’s cat (Leopardus geoffroyi) status is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN and is protected across its range. Unfortunately, like all wild cats it is suffering from a multitude of threats including:

  • Climate change leading to droughts
  • Habitat loss due to farming activities converting natural areas into agriculture and grazing lands
  • Poaching/hunting
  • Retaliatory killings for eating poultry
  • Road kill
  • Killing by domestic dogs
  • Illegal pet trade

In addition, a recent study on the impacts of human activities and environmental disturbances in the Brazilian Pampa biome has shown high frequencies of multi drug-resistant enterococci (microorganisms that live in the gastrointestinal tracts of humans and other animals) in the gut communities of wild Geoffroy’s cats. Since these wild animals have had no history of antibiotic exposure, these findings are considered concerning. Researchers believe this is the first of its kind study and hope it will help in the future to determine if and how animals may contribute to the spread of resistant strains between different ecosystems.

What is being done to help the Geofffroy’s cat? In addition to research by groups like the Felinos Silvestres Chile foundation, the Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation teamed up to create the Geoffroy’s Cat Working Group (GCWG) in South America. They have created a network to help the species through awareness campaigns, working with local communities, conservation, education and alleviating threats.

How can you help the Geoffroy’s cat?

  • Learn about them and help spread the word
  • Donate to the Small Wild Cat Conservation Fund – small wild cats receive very little in terms of funding, less than 1% is reserved for them!
  • Donate to the Feline Conservation Fund to help purchase research equipment
  • Purchase a World Geoffroy’s Cat Day T-shirt