It seems incredible that back in 1999, there was a species of feline in the Andes whose presence was proven only by some skulls housed in museums and a few photos. No study had been done so far on this species, being a complete mystery to science. We refer to the Andean cat, the sacred cat of the Andes!
This lack of knowledge motivated a group of researchers to work with this species and to form a group that would dedicate their efforts to learn more about this mysterious feline. So, 20 years ago the Andean Cat Alliance (AGA) was created, bringing together researchers from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru, the four countries where this mysterious feline lives.
In the first 10 years of AGA’s existence, the main objective was to know more about the species, overcoming great challenges such as the climate conditions of the places where it lives, with great thermal amplitudes and temperatures that can reach at -20 °C at night and very strong winds, high altitudes (up to 5000 meters above sea level), and the elusive nature characteristic of small cats. Thus, with courage and desire to know more about the Andean cat, AGA members carried out long field work campaigns, and with the help technological resources such as camera traps, radio collars and DNA studies, they were able to establish a base line of ecological knowledge. This was essential to identify the conservation threats that the species faces and to develop intervention strategies to reduce those threats.
In the last 10 years, AGA has focused on the identification and implementation of effective strategies to mitigate the impact of threats to the conservation of the Andean cat. To this end, projects involve the local communities that live day by day with the Andean cat, and who are the final architects of their long-term conservation. Throughout these years, a close relationship was forged between the local communities and the members of the Alliance, making possible to address some of the conservation problems faced by this species through the implementation of various conservation projects.
What was an utopia 20 years ago, today is a reality: there are multinational programs, which are not limited by geographical boundaries, whose objective is to address various aspects of the Andean cat conservation problems. The key to the success of these programs is that, although they have a conceptual axis and a global objective, the activities are adapted to local realities. Today, five multinational programs are being implemented in the four countries where this species is distributed.
These 20 years of work also resulted in less tangible achievements, but equally important: the Andean cat is currently recognized locally and internationally as a species of special importance and with a high degree of threat, which has made it included in the conservation scenario in the countries where he lives. Although the knowledge acquired about the species has raised new questions and challenges, the recognition of the importance of the Andean cat by governments and local communities gives hope that we can continue to decipher the mysteries of the cat, as long as we continue working together for its long-term survival.