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Mystery cat discovered in Ecuador is likely a pampas cat according to expert

Mystery cat discovered in Ecuador is likely a pampas cat according to expert

Mystery cat discovered in Ecuador is likely a pampas cat according to expert

Jeremy Hance, mongabay
October 28, 2008

“Mystery feline” really isn’t a mystery but conservation of its habitat is important nonetheless.

Two years ago a mysterious wild cat was spotted in Peru. The cat was photographed recently by Aldo Sornoza of Fundacion Jocotoco (FJ) in Ecuador's Jorupe Reserve, close to the Peruvian border.

According to an article from the World Land Trust, researchers in the area are debating whether the cat is new species or the rare Andean cat. Jim Sanderson, one of the world's foremost experts on small cats, believes it is neither.

After studying the picture Sanderson spoke to "The cat shown in the photograph…is the lovely Pampas cat found in this region. Pampas cats show a variety of morphs depending upon where they occur. In Brazil they are all brown for instance and in the Andes they are spotted, have a pink nose, and striking black lines across the forelegs."

Photo by Aldo Sornoza of Fundacion Jocotoco and The World Land Trust

Captive Pampas cat. Photo by Jim Sanderson.

The Andean cat captured on film by Jim Sanderson, who has seen this species alive in the wild more times than any other living scientist.

Conservation groups have been known to use the apparent discovery of a new species to draw attention to their initiatives. For example, in 2005 WWF claimed to have captured on film a “new species of carnivore” in Borneo around the time that the group was pushing its “Heart of Borneo” conservation project. Mammal experts quickly dismissed the claim — the animal was clearly a flying squirrel moving on the forest floor — but WWF capitalized on the PR stunt and the Heart of Borneo initiative eventually won approval by the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei.

Sanderson sent Mongabay a picture of the pampas cat and told us to pay particular attention to the pampas cat's forelegs, which are similar to cat in the photograph.

Sanderson is skeptical that it is an Andean cat, because "they are not known to occur in Ecuador and in fact the geographic distribution includes only the southern portion of the Andes in Peru." However, several subspecies of the pampas cat have been documented in Ecuador.

The pampas cat is considered threatened due to habitat loss. Once native to the pampas in Argentina, from which it gets its name, a survey in 2002 found little evidence that the cat still inhabited the region.

The Jorupe Reserve, where the cat was photographed, is a dry tropical forest. Currently the reserve is 3,000 acres, but the World Land Trust and its partner FJ hope to double the reserve's size. The reserve was created to protect 59 species of birds found only in this region, including the endangered gray-cheeked parakeet. Evidence of the threatened pampas cat makes this reserve even more important.

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