In an inter-institutional effort between the Andean Cat Alliance, the Villavicencio RAMSAR site of the Villavicencio Foundation, and the Secretary of Environment and Territorial Planning, through the Natural Resources Directorate (DRNR), stations were implemented to register andean cat presence, using camera traps within the protected area. As a result, the presence of the species is reconfirmed within the designated conservation unit.

The Andean cat (Leopardus jacobita) is a small, solitary cat, slightly larger than a domestic cat that lives in arid environments, from central Peru to Mendoza and Neuquén in Argentina. It prefers isolated sites, characterized by the presence of rocky formations where its main prey, the chinchillón (Lagidiumviscacia), lives.

This dependence on the rocky areas, which are naturally isolated in the landscape, associated with the difficult access and the natural elusive character of the small cats, has made it a species that is little known worldwide and is considered endangered throughout its distribution. The main threats to the conservation of this elusive cat in the region are hunting by local people, either in retaliation or by uncontrolled dogs, and the development of extractive industry activities that do not include the species in their environmental impact studies.

Although in September 2008, the species was seen  inside the Villavicencio Natural Reserve (RNV), which was later confirmed by camera trap images. It was impossible to know at the time if it was a resident animal or a dispersant, since its presence in the reserve was never registered again. In 2012, the Andean Cat Alliance (AGA) published studies on the genetic diversity of the species on a global scale.

The results of the studies placed the RNV as a site of special importance, since it is located in the transition zone between the Significant Evolutionary Unit of northern Argentina and the one located towards the south. This information encourages that the conservation efforts of these populations are considerably important for the perpetuation of the species.

Andean cat recorded at the Villavicencio reserve

With the general objective of confirming the presence of the Andean cat in the reserve and at the same time collecting samples that can be submitted to genetic analysis, AGA started a collaborative work with the DRNR and the RNV. Under the framework of this collaboration, in July 2019, camera traps were placed in various areas of the reserve, prioritizing areas where there were greater probabilities of obtaining records of the species.

Thanks to the collaborative work between the private sector, government and an international non-profit organization, two Andean cat individuals were clearly identified. The recognition of these animals in the area reaffirms the presence of the species in this zone.

The VNR, with its large surface area and the conservation representativeness within the province of Mendoza and its effective management, appears as a key site for the planning and development of activities that allow the species to remain in the region.

The Directorate of Renewable Natural Resources reminds the population that wild animals cannot be treated as pets. Those who are in the presence or living with wild animals should be made aware of the damage that their actions can cause to these specimens and the risk to the balance of the ecosystem that this entails. For this reason, trade and possession are prohibited by wildlife regulations: National Law 22421, of adhesion 4602 and 7308, regulated by Decree 1890/05.