The Andean cat (Leopardus jacobita) is a small feline found in the high Andes of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru and in the northern portion of the Patagonian steppe in Argentina. It is one of the least known cats in the world and is considered the most threatened feline in America, being among the five most endangered cats in the world.
Its fur is predominantly a reddish, ashy gray color, with yellowish-brown spots that are arranged vertically on both sides of the body, giving the appearance of continuous stripes. Andean cats also have an extremely long, thick tail – reaching up to ¾ of its body length – marked by black rings along the tail.
Though the Andean cat is found across a wide area, its extensive habitat range share common characteristics; these include aridity and extreme temperatures, scarce vegetation, heterogeneous geomorphology, and rocky patches in the landscape. Despite what little is known about the Andean cat, it is certain that their habitat is both fragmented and highly fragile. Water availability is an important factor for the presence of the Andean cat as well as for vizcachas (a very close relative of chinchillas), their main source of prey, whose presence is surely a factor in influencing the range and population density of the Andean cat.
The current distribution of the Andean cat covers four countries—Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and Chile—an area of significant cultural, social, and economic diversity. Human populations also fluctuate greatly in the regions where the Andean cat is found. This presents a challenge in developing conservation strategies since the attitudes and interactions with the Andean cat vary greatly by locality. The combination of these geographic and cultural factors requires innovative conservation strategies at the international level, while also taking into account local realities and regional needs.