Pampas cat

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Pampas cat
Leopardus pajeros 20101006.jpg
Pampas cat with the third pelage type
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Leopardus
L. colocola [2]
Binomial name
Leopardus colocola [2]
(Molina, 1782)
  • L. c. colocola (Molina, 1782)
  • L. c. pajeros (Desmarest, 1816)
  • L. c. braccatus (Cope, 1889)
  • L. c. garleppi (Matschie, 1912)
  • L. c. budini (Pocock, 1941)
  • L. c. munoai (Ximénez, 1961)
  • L. c. wolffsohni (Garcia-Perea, 1994)
PampasCat distribution.jpg
Distribution of the Pampas Cat, 2016 [1]

The Pampas cat (Leopardus colocola) is a small wild cat native to South America. [2] It is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List as habitat conversion and destruction may cause the population to decline in the future. [1]


It is also known as Pantanal cat and colocolo in parts of its range. [3] It is named after the Pampas, but occurs in grassland, shrubland, and dry forest at elevations up to 5,000 m (16,000 ft). [4]

There was a proposal to divide Pampas cat into three distinct species, based primarily on differences in pelage colour/pattern and cranial measurements. [4] Accordingly, three species were recognised in the 2005 edition of Mammal Species of the World : the colocolo (L. colocolo), the Pantanal cat (L. braccatus), and the Pampas cat (L. pajeros) with a more restricted definition. [5] This split at species level was not supported by subsequent phylogeographic analysis, although some geographical substructure was recognised, [6] [7] and some authorities continue to recognise the Pampas cat as a single species. [1] [8] In the 2017 revision of felid taxonomy by the Cat Specialist Group, the Pampas cat is recognized as a single species with seven subspecies. [2] A further study released in 2020, found strong evidence for five distinct species within the Pampas cat complex. [9]


The Pampas cat is a little bigger than a domestic cat and has a bushier tail. [10] Its size varies between regions, ranging in body length from 46 to 75 cm (18 to 30 in) with a 23–29 cm (9.1–11.4 in) long tail. Six variants of its pelage occur, but all have two dark lines on the cheeks: [4]

The subtypes of Type 2 show variation according to altitude and latitude. Only the first subtype occurs in the north (around 20°S and northwards), and only the third type occurs in the far south (around 40°S and southwards). In between, the majority are of second subtype, but the first subtype has been recorded as far south as 29°S, and the third subtype as far north as 36°S. At latitudes where both the first and second subtypes are found, the former tends to occur in highlands and the latter in lowlands. [4]


Felis colocola was the scientific name proposed by Juan Ignacio Molina in 1782 for a cat from Chile. [10]

Skulls Ueber Felis Guina Molina und uber die Schadelbildung bei Felis Pajeros und Felis colocolo (1870) Leopardus colocola.png

An extensive morphological analysis of Pampas cat specimens from across the species's range revealed differences in cranial measurements, and pelage colour and pattern. Therefore, the Pampas cat group was divided into three distinct species with 11 subspecies. [4] This species division was recognised in the 2005 edition of Mammal Species of the World , although the number of subspecies was reduced: [5]

Based on just two specimens, the subspecies L. p. steinbachi is larger and paler than L. p. garleppi. However, this is labelled with uncertainty due to the very small sample, [4] and some treat it as a synonym of L. p. garleppi. [8] Uncertainty also exists for the subspecies L. p. budini, which appears to resemble L. p. crespoi, and was described from lowlands of northwestern Argentina, but may actually be from humid forests in the region. [4] Some recognise it, [8] while others do not. [5] Populations in southern Chile and the southern part of Argentina, included in the nominate in the above list, were recognised as the subspecies L. p. crucinus based on its dull pelage and large size. [4]

More recent work, primarily genetic studies, failed to find support for a split at species level, although some geographical substructure was recognized. [6] [7] Several authors recognise the Pampas cat as a single species. [1] [8] Since 2017, the Cat Classification Taskforce of the Cat Specialist Group recognises the Pampas cat as a single species with seven subspecies: [2]

Authors of a study published in May 2020 found significant morphological, molecular, geographic, and ecological differences between various Pampas cat populations across South America. They propose five species within the Pampas cat species complex, namely L. colocola, L. braccatus, L. garleppi, L. munoai and L. pajeros. They consider all five species to be monotypic. [9]

Distribution and habitat

A Pampas cat museum specimen Leopardus pajeros (Felis pajeros) - Museo Civico di Storia Naturale Giacomo Doria - Genoa, Italy - DSC02669.JPG
A Pampas cat museum specimen

The Pampas cat ranges throughout most of Argentina and Uruguay into the Gran Chaco and Cerrado of Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil, and north through the Andes mountain chain through Ecuador and possibly marginally into southwestern Colombia. [1] It occurs in a wide range of habitats and inhabits elevations between 1,800 and 5,000 m (5,900 and 16,400 ft) in páramo , marginally also in puna grassland and locally in dry forest. [4] Where its range overlaps with the Andean mountain cat in northwestern Argentina, it occurs at lower elevations on average. [14] In central to northwestern Argentina, the Pampas cat is found at elevations below 1,240 m (4,070 ft) in grassland, mesophytic and dry forest, and shrubland. In southern Argentina and far southern Chile, it is found in Patagonian steppes and shrubland at altitudes below 1,100 m (3,600 ft). [4]

In 2016 it was recorded for the first time in the Sechura Desert and in the dry forest of northwestern Peru. [15]

Ecology and behaviour

Little is known about the Pampas cat's hunting and breeding habits. It is thought to prey mainly on small mammals and birds. Guinea pigs are thought to form a large part of its diet, along with viscachas, other rodents, and the ground-dwelling tinamou order of birds. [16] Though some have suggested it is chiefly nocturnal, [16] others suggest it is mainly diurnal. [17]

Litters are relatively small, usually consisting of only one or two kittens, and occasionally three. The kittens weigh around 130 g (4.6 oz) at birth. [16] The average lifespan is nine years, but some have lived for over 16 years. [18]

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