Researchers have found that the güiña wildcat can adapt remarkably well to deforestation, which is good news for the species. However, these cats aren’t completely out of the woods yet.
A güiña stalking through the trees [Photo by Jerry Laker]
Chile’s güiña wildcat is also known as little tiger cat, little spotted cat or Chilean cat. It’s the smallest species of cat in the Americas at about half the size of a domestic cat and is also one of the most threatened. It also occupies the smallest area of land among all the cat species on the continent. The güiña is listed as vulnerable to extinction and has been on the IUCN Red List since 1996.
Like many other animals who have to share the world with humans, this cat has had to go through deforestation, which for other species means loss of habitat. Its natural habitat is the rainforest, and less than 10,000 individuals remain in the wild today. For the güiña, however, it turns out that deforestation isn’t as big of a problem as it may seem.
Chile may be losing some of its rainforests, but güiñas may be able to bounce back.
A new study shows that the biggest threat to the güiña isn’t the depletion of the rainforest. Researchers looked through camera trap data, remote-sensed images, and questionnaires and saw that güiñas are capable of bouncing back from deforestation.
Locals in the area don’t look too favorably upon the güiña, because tiny as it is, it’s known to kill poultry. Thus, güiñas are prone to getting killed when farmers retaliate for the loss of their livestock. It’s estimated that about 10% of the locals have killed a güiña at least once over the past 10 years.
More humans mean more threats to the güiña. [Photo by Bernardo Guzman]
However, while retaliation by humans is a threat, researchers don’t consider it to be the biggest threat to the little cat’s survival—at least not directly. The biggest threats are actually habitat fragmentation and the subdivision of large farming lands into smaller ones.
"This is because there is a higher risk of human interaction and persecution in areas where there are more farms; a greater pressure on natural resources through increased timber extraction and livestock grazing; and even competition for food from domestic animals kept as pets," said Dr Nicolás Gálvez, one of the researchers. Thus, if more farmers flock to the area, there’s more of a chance that the güiñas will be hunted down and killed.
With large farmlands, there's a chance that humans and güiñas may live in relative harmony.
Researchers say that the güiña can actually thrive in large swaths of agricultural land. The presence of farms, as long they’re large enough, has turned out to be beneficial for the little wildcats. These lands often have areas in which the cats can take refuge, raise their young, and find good sources of food.
Thus, the researchers suggest that the owners of large farmlands are key to conservation efforts. They likely have a large role to play in the preservation of lands in areas where the güiña lives. This means that indeed, there is still some hope left for Chile’s smallest wildcats. Re-centering conservation efforts around the farmers with large tracts of land may just pull the güiña from the brink.
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