Pampas cat (Leopardus pajeros) is named after the pampas (in Quechuan language meaning “plain”), which are fertile South American lowlands, covering more than 750,000 sq km (289,577 sq miles). They include the Argentine provinces of Buenos Aires, La Pampa, Santa Fe, Entre Ríos and Córdoba, most of Uruguay and the southernmost Brazilian State, Rio Grande do Sul. Pampas cat (Leopardus pajeros) is found in Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and probably far southwestern Colombia. Although, it is named after the pampas, it is found in shrubland, grassland and dry forest at altitudes between 1,800 and 5,000 metres (5,900 and 16,400 ft).
At present classified as Near Threatened” by the IUCN, Pampas cat was earlier included in the colocolo (L. colocolo), but was later separated on the basis of differences in pelage colour/pattern and cranial measurements. However, the split is not supported by genetic work, therefore some leading authorities still consider it as a subspecies of the colocolo. Confusingly, when the colocolo includes both, the Pantanal cat and the Pampas cat as subspecies, the “combined” species is sometimes referred to as the Pampas cat.
These cats have not been studied much in the wild, therefore not much is known about their hunting habits. There are reports that they hunt rodents and birds at night, and also take domestic poultry near farms. As their habitat is being destroyed and converted for other purposes there are threats their population may decline in future.
Athough the Pampas cat is found at the elevations varying between 1,800 and 5,000 metres (5,900 and 16,400 ft) in the above mentioned countries, it also occurs at lower altitudes where its range overlaps with the Andean mountain cat in northwestern Argentina. In central to northwestern Argentina it is found at altitudes below 1,240 metres (4,070 ft) in grassland, mesophytic and dry forest, and shrubland. In far southern Chile and southern Argentina it occurs in Patagonian steppes and shrubland at altitudes below 1,100 metres (3,600 ft).
Small, but heavy-set cat
These cats are small, but heavy-set. There are noteworthy geographical differences in their sizes, but the body length is 45 to 75 centimeters and the tail is relatively short with a length of 20 to 30 centimeters. Three main variants of pelage are found, but all have two transverse brown to black lines that cross each cheek:
- 1) In colour and pattern this group resembles Colocolos of the subspecies wolffsohni. Stripes on the legs and spots/stripes on the underparts are very dark brown (almost black). Flanks have large, reddish-brown rosette-shaped spots with darker borders. There are numerous rings on the tail (of the same colour as the flank spots).
- 2) It bears a resemblance to the previous, but its background colour is lighter, stripes on the hind legs, body markings and rings on the tail are paler and not distinctly visible.
- 3) Greyish on the whole with clear dark brown stripes on the legs and spots on the underparts, a plain tail—without clear rings; at most indistinct dark lines on the flanks.
There have been reports of melanistic ‘‘pampas cats’’ in captivity. A camera-trap picture in Emas Park, Goia´s State, Brazil, appears to be the only known record in the wild.
Mammal Species of the World has recognised 5 subspecies of this cat:
- Leopardus pajeros thomasi – Andes in Ecuador.
- Leopardus pajeros garleppi – Andes in Peru.
- Leopardus pajeros steinbachi – Andes in Bolivia.
- Leopardus pajeros pajeros (nominate) – southern Chile and widely in Argentina.
- Leopardus pajeros crespoi – eastern slope of the Andes in northwestern Argentina.