Colocolo, Leopardus colocolo

The colocolo (Leopardus colocolo) is a small cat that is native to central and Northern Chile, inhabiting western slopes of the Andes Mountains. This species was formerly classified within the Felis genus, like most other small cats, but it has since been classified in the Oncifelis genus by some experts, along with the kodkod and Geoffroy’s cat. However, it is now formally classified within the Leopardus genus. It once held two widespread subspecies, known as the Pampas Cat and the Pantanal Cat, but these are now mostly considered separate species within the Leopardus genus. When these species are included as subspecies, the species as a whole is sometimes called the Pampas Cat.

The range of the colocolo overlaps with the ranges of many small cats in South America. Because of this, and because of coloring and skull structure differences, the Pantanal cat and Pampas cat were classified as distinct species. There is some debate about these separations however, due to genetic studies. When these two species are classified as distinct species, the colocolo holds two subspecies. These are Lynchailurus colocolo and Oncifelis colocolo.

The colocolo is a stout cat, although it is small, reaching an average body length between twenty-two and twenty-six inches. The species can reach an average weight of 6.6 pounds, with a tail length between eleven to thirteen inches. The two recognized subspecies of this cat differ in appearance from the colocolo, and occur in different areas.

L. c. colocolo can be found in central Chile, inhabiting subtropical forests holding xerophytic plants, at altitudes of up to 5,900 feet. This subspecies can be dark grey to red in color, with reddish stripes on the lower back and cheeks. There are darker stripes on the legs and underbelly and spots can be seen on the chest, and it has up to five rings on its tail. The other subspecies, known as L. c. wolffsohni, can be found in northern Chile in shrublands and páramo habitats. It is thought to occur at altitudes between 6,000 and 13,500 feet based on sightings of two individuals. This subspecies is similar in color to L. c. colocolo, but its flanks hold larger brownish red spots and its tail has up to eight rings in the same coloring as the flank spots. The stripes and spots found on the underbelly and legs are almost black in color.

There is little information about the colocolo, but it is thought to be strictly nocturnal or strictly active during the day. Litters contain between one and two kittens on average, although some may contain three. The diet and hunting habits of this cat are not well understood, but it is thought to consume mainly guinea pigs and other rodents, as well as tinamous.

The colocolo has not been assessed by the IUCN, except when it contained the Pantanal and Pampas Cats, which gave it a “Near Threatened” status, so withholding those subspecies gives the colocolo a conservation status of “Not Recognized” on the IUCN Red List. Because its range is smaller than that of the kodkod, it is thought that further assessment could result in an “Endangered” status.  However, more research about this cat’s habits, threats, resistance to those threats, and other information is needed before any concrete conservation work can be conducted.

Image Caption: Colocolo/ Felis colocolo. Credit: Richard Lydekker/Wikipedia