- HB Length: 42-79 cm (16.5-31″)
- Tail Length: 22-33 cm (9-13″)
- Height: 30-35 cm (12-14″)
- Weight: 3-4 kg (6.6-9 lbs)
- Pop. Trend: Decreasing
Pampas Cats Leopardus colocolo look like heavy set domestic cats, and the fur can vary from thick and soft in colder areas to thin and straw-like in warmer climates. The colour can vary from yellowish white and grayish yellow to brown, grey brown, silvery grey, light grey or dark rust. Underparts are whitish or cream, and marked with brown or black spots or bands. There can be red grey spots or streaks on the pelage, or the coat can be almost unmarked except for brown bands on the legs and tail. There are long, mane-like guard hairs on the back up to seven cm long, which they erect when frightened or nervous. Their head is broad with a short muzzle, and they have relatively large, amber eyes. The ears are somewhat pointed, and are grey black on the backs with a silvery white central spot. The legs are short and stout, marked with brown or black bars and spots. Their tail is fairly short and bushy, sometimes marked with indistinct rings.
With their highly variable colouring and wide range, the Pampas Cat population has been clustered into three major groups:
-Colocolo in Chile, and on the west side of the Andes;
-Pampas Cat in Colombia to Southern Chile, and the east side of the Andes;
-Pantanal Cat in Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
They are sometimes considered separate species but all forms intermingle, and genetic data has indicated only moderate differences between the three. Melanistic specimens have also been recorded in Brazil.
Charles Darwin knew these cats by their former name of Felis pajeros, which was derived from paja, meaning “straw,” because they lived in reed beds. The scientist who first described this cat in scientific literature used the scientific name of colocolo, the name of an ancient Araucanian warrior chief of Chile.
Pampas Cats occupy more habitat types than any other Latin American cat. They occur in grassland, cloud forest, open woodlands, swampy areas, savannah, dry thorn scrub, and are absent only from lowland rain forest. They occur up to 5,000 metres in the Andes, where they share much of their range with the Andean Cat Leopardus jacobita. At the southern extent of their range, they occur in the cold semi-arid desert of Patagonia.
In the north, they range to the Mato Grosso of southwestern Brazil, into Paraguay, Bolivia, the Peruvian Andes and central Chile to parts of Ecuador. Although once declared extirpated from Uruguay, they likely still exist there in very low numbers.
Their similarity to the domestic cat means their presence is often unreported. Camera trap studies in a Brazilian national park revealed them to be much more common in the area than previously thought. Their home range in the park was estimated to be 19.47 km2.
In the Andes Mountains they can easily be confused with the Andean Cat, and researchers often have difficulty identifying juveniles of either species on camera trap photos.
Hunting is generally done at night on the ground but can vary with the region. They are almost entirely diurnal in the Brazilian cerrado grasslands, perhaps due to the presence of larger nocturnal carnivores.
Goat ranchers have reported this little cat kills adult goats, and they are known to raid domestic chicken houses. They are also known to eat carrion, scavenging from livestock and other large mammal carcasses.
Pampas cats are solitary, but unstudied in the wild so little to nothing is known of their ecology. However, radio-telemetry studies are being carried out in Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina.
Much of the reproductive biology of the Pampas Cat is unknown. Gestation is 80 – 85 days, and litters are said to contain one to three kittens. In captivity, the breeding period appears to be restricted to the months between April and July. They have lived over 16 years in captivity. Unlike some of the other small felids they are reputedly aggressive and not responsive to taming.
Pampas Cats are widely distributed and tolerant of altered habitats as long as sufficient cover remains. They are often the most common felid present in camera trap surveys. In rural areas of the Andes they are killed for religious ceremonial uses in which the skin of a stuffed cat is believed to confer fertility and productivity for livestock and crops.
Throughout their range they are killed for predation on domestic poultry. Much of the pampas of Argentina has been turned into agricultural land and thus their habitat and prey species in this area have been greatly reduced. Their large range means their status varies from endangered in Peru, rare in Paraguay to status unknown in Brazil.
Compare the Pampas Cat to the extremely rare Andean Mountain Cat.
Range map IUCN Red List 2008