“Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the people of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it”
Found primarily in Chile and thinly in bordering parts of Argentina, with others located on the islands of Chiloé and Guaitecas, this elusive and endearing little cat is the smallest felid in the New World, and with the smallest known distribution. Known also as the guiña or Chilean cat, and roughly the size of an average domestic cat, the extremely rare kodkod is very similar in appearance to Geoffroy’s cat.
The kodkods’ diminutive size may have spared them the horror of being hunted for their fur, but, as fate would have it, they tend to get caught in traps laid for foxes, ultimately causing the same sad death. Occasionally their pelts have been seen in markets, but it is not a common occurrence. Farmers, however, have considered kodkods as pests in the past and thus killed them. This opinion was not entirely without foundation as kodkods have always had a penchant for chicken meat and are still known to occasionally prey on domestic stocks, the farmer’s livelihood.
Such persecution has been partially ameliorated with research and education, though some humans still remain a threat, as do the kodkods to the poultry, of course. The studies of Dr. Elke Schüttler show the kodkod does not feature heavily in Mapuche legend and it has been possible to ascertain that the people of the Araucaría region are coming to value ecotourism. Children in schools were also found to have a positive attitude towards the little cats. All of which bodes well for the few remaining kodkods.
But, by far the biggest threat to the kodkods is the wanton destruction of their habitat and prey base. Due to logging, the over planting of pine plantations and human settlement, the kodkods are now confined to a narrow mainland coastal strip of mixed forest, with a few more populations on the nearby islands. Although, they are tolerant of altered habitats and can be found in secondary forest and shrub and near cultivated areas, as well as the forests they prefer. In particular they favour Valdivian and Araucaria forests, where there is a notable presence of bamboo in the understory.
Kodkods have bushy tails, small heads, relatively large, round ears, short legs and large feet and claws for climbing. They can measure up to a length of thirty inches from the top of the head to the tip of the tail. and weigh as much as six-and-a-half pounds.
Their beautiful coats are yellowish-brown to greyish-brown on top and covered with dark spots. This affords incredible camouflage. The underside is pale and the tail is ringed. They have very distinctive facial markings around the nose and eyes. Melanistic kodkods are not unusual.
Largely arboreal, kodkods are also superb climbers. They are active both day and night but only expose themselves to open areas under cover of darkness. They spend their days well-hidden in dense vegetation and other parts of the forest offering heavy cover.
Very little is known about the breeding habitats of the species. They are rarely seen and none are kept in captivity. Available information suggests there is a gestation period of up to seventy-eight days after which a litter of one to three cubs will be born. There is some suggestion kodkods may be polygamous. As with other cats, parental care will probably fall to the mother, who may also teach them to hunt. The cubs will reach maturity at about two years of age and can expect to live for roughly eleven years.
Kodkod is the Araucanian Indian name for this felid of which there are two subspecies: Leopardus guigna guigna, which can be found in Southern Chile and Argentina, and Leopardus guigna tigrillo, which inhabits the forests of Central Chile.
Moist temperate mixed forests.
Argentina and Chile. It can also found on the Isla de Chiloé and the Isla Grand Guaiteca off the southern coast of Chile.
What they eat
Small mammals, especially rodents; reptiles, birds and insects.
Habitat loss with much of their native habitat being cut down and replaced with pine plantations, agriculture and human settlement. Persecution; kodkods have occasionally been killed when seen raiding chicken coops. Humans and their dogs are the only known predators of kodkods. They are often caught in traps set for foxes.
The kodkod (Leopardus guiana) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (at high risk of endangerment in the wild). It is also included on Appendix II of CITES and protected by law in Chile and Argentina.
There are various conservation plans in action including involving local people in field projects and visiting local schools. There are currently no captive kodkods in zoos.