Other Names
chat des pampas (French)
Pampaskatze (German)
gato pajero, gato de los pajonales, osio (Spanish)
gato montés (Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay)
gato peludo (Bolivia)
gato palheiro (Brazil)
gato colocolo (Chile)
gatillo (Ecuador)
osjollo, chinchay (Peru)
  • Description and Behavior

  • Biology

  • Habitat and Distribution

  • Population Status

  • Protection Status

  • Principal Threats

  • References

  • Action Planning

  • Description and Behavior
    The pampas cat has a wide distribution and broad habitat selectivity, and its appearance varies in different parts of its range. In the high Andes, it is grey-colored with reddish stripes broken up into spots, and looks rather similar to the Andean mountain cat, although it is not so heavily striped. In the Argentine pampas, the coat is longer, of a more yellow-brown color, with muted pattern (Cabrera and Yepes 1960). A male from central Brazil was of rusty color with dark and conspicuous irregular black stripes over its entire body when young (three months old), but by the age of eight months, stripes were visible only on the limbs and underparts (Silveira in submission).

    A taxonomic evaluation of 96 museum specimens leads García-Perea (1994) to propose that, given pronounced geographic differences, the "pampas cat" is actually three species: Lynchailurus pajeros (Desmarest, 1816) [high Andes from Ecuador to Patagonia and throughout Argentina]; L. braccatus (Cope, 1889) [warm grassland and sub-tropical forest in Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay]; and L. colocolo (Molina, 1782) [central and north-western Chile]. She plans to test the degree of differentiation between the three types by molecular analysis.

    The long hairs on the pampas catís back (up to seven cm in length) form a sort of dorsal mane: when it sets its hairs on end, it looks larger than it really is, which is only a little bigger than a domestic cat. The recorded wild-caught weights range from 3-3.7 kg (n=3: Redford and Eisenberg 1992, Silveira in submission). In captivity, they have weighed up to 7 kg (Green 1991).

    Although the pampas cat is relatively common and widespread, there is surprisingly little data available on its ecology. It has been described as preying chiefly on small mammals such as guinea pigs (Cabrera and Yepes 1960, Guggisberg 1975, Ferrari et al. 1984, Rabinovich et al. 1987, D. Brooks in litt. 1989), as well as ground-dwelling birds -- for example, in Patagonia pampas cats have been observed to take penguin eggs and chicks from nests (D. Boersma in litt. 1990). Pampas cats are thought to be predominantly nocturnal and terrestrial. However, they have been observed in daylight hours in the wild, and a male pampas cat kept in Brazilís Parque Zoológico de Goiânia showed great skill in tree climbing, and spent most of its resting periods draped over the highest fork of a small dead tree installed in its cage (Silveira in submission).

    Reproductive Season (C):
    Apr-Jul (northern hemisphere) (Green 1991)

    Litter Size (C):
    1.31±0.13 (n=13) (Mellen 1989);
    Range 1-3 (Rabinovich et al. 1987)

    Age at First Reproduction (C):
    Two years (n=1 female: Eaton 1984)

    Longevity (C):
    Average nine, but up to 16.5 years (n=3) (Prator et al. 1988)

    Habitat and Distribution
    The pampas cat is strongly associated with grass and shrub habitats (Figure 14). In addition to the pampas grassland formations for which it is named, it also occurs throughout the cerrado (open wood, shrub and grass complexes) of central Brazil (L. Silveira in submission). The pampas cat also occurs in several forest types, typically open woodland or scrub thicket, such as the Gran Chaco, but also the belt of "yungas" cloud forest that runs along the eastern slope of the Andes (Cabrera 1961, Grimwood 1969, Cabrera and Willink 1980). It is absent only from lowland rainforest, both tropical (Emmons 1990) and temperate Valdivian (Taber et al. 1974). At the southern extent of its range, it occurs in the cold semi-arid desert of Patagonia. In Uruguay, it is found in low-lying swampy areas with clumps of long esparto grass (Ximénez 1961), and also occurs around the Pantanal floodplain (L. Silveira in submission). It occurs on both the eastern and western slopes of the Andes, with an elevational range from 100 up to over 5,000 m, where it is possibly sympatric with the Andean mountain cat (Grimwood 1969, Redford and Eisenberg 1992).

    The range portrayed in Figure 14 assumes that pampas cat populations are largely continuous. However, in keeping with her theory that there are actually three different species of pampas cat, García-Perea (1994) has produced an alternative range map showing disjunct distributions Figure 15. The range she portrays in south-central Brazil should be extended to the east as shown in Figure 14, based on specimen records collected by Silveira (in submission).

    Population Status
    Global: Category 5a
    Regional: Category 4
    IUCN: Indeterminate

    The pampas cat is widely distributed, tolerant of altered habitat (including secondary growth, forest plantation, and the fringes of agricultural and settled areas: P. Crawshaw, C. Weber in litt. 1993), and international trade in its pelt ceased in 1987 (WCMC unpubl. data). In the Paraguayan Chaco, it has been described as less common than the Geoffroyís cat (Brooks 1992). Although pronounced extinct in Uruguay over 30 years ago (Cabrera and Yepes 1960), it probably still exists, but very sparsely due to draining of wetlands for ranching and agriculture (A. Ximénez in litt. 1991). Although it appears to have a wide range in Brazil (the cerrado is Brazilís second largest habitat type after tropical rainforest: Olson et al. 1983), records are scarce and the species is generally considered rare (L. Silveira in submission). The pampas cats of Chile (L. colocolo of García-Perea [1994]) are the most endangered group due to small geographic range.

    Protection Status
    Protection Status: CITES Appendix II

    National Legislation:
    Protected across most of its range

    Hunting Prohibited:
    Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay

    Hunting Regulated:

    No Legal Protection:
    Brazil, Ecuador

    No Information:
    Uruguay (Fuller et al. 1987)

    Principal Threats
    The pampas region of Argentina and Uruguay has been heavily settled and grazed relative to other regions, and the status of the species should be investigated here. The pampas cats of Argentina were formerly hunted in large numbers for the fur trade -- 78,000 skins were exported from 1976-1979 (Mares and Ojeda 1984) -- but international trade has ceased following a last shipment of 10,000 pelts exported in 1987 to clear old stocks (WCMC unpubl. data). L. Silveira (in submission) reports that the pampas cat is known to raid chicken houses occasionally.

    © 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union