The Pampas cat (Leopardus colocola) is a small wild cat native to South America. It is named after the Pampas, fertile South American low grasslands. It is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List as the loss of its native habitat may cause the population to decline in the future.
Pampas cats have the appearance of heavy-set domestic cats. Their fur varies from soft and thick in colder areas to straw-like and thin in warmer climates. The color ranges from grayish-yellow and yellowish-white to brown, gray-brown, light gray, and silvery gray. Their underparts are cream or whitish and are marked with black or brown spots. The coat may have red-gray streaks or spots or may have almost no markings except for some brown bands on its legs and tail. Typically its front and back legs have distinctive bands of brown, and its short, bushy tail has somewhat indistinct black or brown rings. Long hairs on its back stand up when the cat is frightened or nervous, making the cat appear much larger than it really is.
Pampas cats are found 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. They live in various habitats such as grassland, locally in dry forests, swampy wetland, and rocky areas. In northwestern Argentina, they occur at lower elevations on average. In central to northwestern Argentina, the Pampas cats are found in mountainous areas in grassland, mesophytic and dry forest, and shrubland. In southern Argentina and far southern Chile, they inhabit Patagonian steppes and shrubland.
Pampas cats are solitary animals. They are predominantly terrestrial and nocturnal, however, some individuals have been seen during the day in the wild. Although they are not considered arboreal, these cats are excellent tree climbers, and do this mainly if feeling threatened. Not much is known about their communication methods. Pampas cats in captivity have been seen, when excited, erecting the long crest of hair along the midline from their head to tail.
Pampas cats are carnivores and prey on small mammals and ground-dwelling birds. Guinea pigs are thought to form a large part of their diet, along with viscachas, other rodents.
The behavior and mating system of Pampas cats is not known. In the northern hemisphere in captivity, they breed from April to July. The gestation period is 80 to 85 days, with 1 to 3 being born per litter. The mother provides her young with milk. Details of parental care are unknown, but, as with other cats, the young probably need caring. They are likely born in a den and looked after by their mother until she takes them on foraging trips. In captivity, the young reach sexual maturity at about 21 months old.
The Pampas cat is faced with several threats, but due to scarce information about it in the wild, it is hard to know to what extent it is being impacted. They used to be hunted extensively for their skins. Habitat destruction is today believed to be the main threat. Much pampas grassland in Uruguay and Argentina has been converted to agricultural land and grazed heavily, resulting in the reduction of habitat and prey. A further threat is killings due to the cat preying on poultry. In Argentina and central Chile, dense cover for the cat is becoming rarer, while hunters and dogs are more common.
According to the IUCN Red List, the Pampas cat is rare throughout a very large portion of its distribution range. It may be relatively common only in a few areas, usually protected or hard-to-reach, such as Emas National Park, Mirador State Park, the High Andes, and the Puna grassland ecoregion. The global population size of the Pampas cat has not been quantified, this species’ numbers are decreasing today and currently, it is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List.