Conservation of Southern tiger cat

Conservation of Southern tiger cat

Project Animal(s) : Southern tiger cat(Leopardus guttulus)
Project Category : Mammals
Project Region : South America
Project Type : Conservation
Project URL :
Project is timebound? : No

The tiger cats (Leopardus tigrinus/Leopardus guttulus) are part of the ocelot lineage, one of the youngest of all cat lineages. They pose an exquisite genetic puzzle. They were recently acknowledged as two distinct species, given their genetic differentiation. However, it is likely that the current Central American subspecies, called Leopardus tigrinus oncilla, comprises a different species too. The Costa Rican population and the one of Central and Southern Brazil (now called Leopardus guttulus) have been isolated for approximately 3.7 million years. These two populations show a high level of divergence comparable to the one between species of the Leopardus genus and both populations have a low genetic diversity.

The main threat to the southern tiger cat is habitat loss and fragmentation due to deforestation. This felid inhabits Brazil’s most threatened biomes, the Atlantic forest and Cerrado. The first is highly fragmented and has lost more than 92% of its natural cover, while in the latter the loss was more than 55%, and is still on the rise due to the grain’s frontier. The tiger cat shows very low densities in protected areas, where it is found, and populations are severely fragmented, making it even more vulnerable to habitat conversion. Killing due to poultry depredation and road kills are further threatening the southern tiger cat, as well as competition and diseases spread by domestic dogs. Hybridization with Geoffroy’s cat could also possibly threaten the southern tiger cat, as well as changes in native species dynamics.

Since the southern tiger cat was separated from Leopardus tigrinus, its inclusion on CITESAppendix I is necessary to be made. It is protected over part of its range. Hunting is prohibited in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.

As the southern tiger cat does not occur in high numbers anywhere and ocelots are the dominant and most abundant felid in most protected areas, southern tiger cat is probably most frequent outside protected areas, where habitats are undergoing high rates of destruction and/or are highly fragmented. Thus, conservation efforts should be focused on the areas outside protected areas. The state of Santa Catarina in Brazil has been considered to harbor the best and likely most viable population of the southern tiger cat, given the extent of its remaining Atlantic forest and the cat’s presence in decent numbers in local Conservation Units, mostly due to the absence of ocelots. Nevertheless, no conservation units within the southern tiger cat’s range in Brazil are expected to house even 500 individuals, with most expected to sustain far less than 200.

Further research on the ecology, natural history and threats is urgently needed for both species of tiger cats. To monitor and understand the extent of hybridization with Geoffroy’s cat is another research priority.

Project Agency : Cat Specialist Group

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