Named after the Pantanal wetlands in central South America, Pantanal cats (Leopardus braccatus) are small felines found in tropical South America. They occur mainly in deciduous forests, grasslands, savannas and shrubland. Traditionally they have been treated as a subspecies of a larger colocolo (Leopardus colocolo), but was split predominantly on the basis of differences in colour and patterns on the fur and cranial measurements. Since this split is not supported by genetic work, some authorities insist that it is a subspecies of the Leopardus colocolo, while others view it as “likely distinct species”.
They are small felines, about the size of a domestic cat. Their fur, which is generally longer than other closely related species, is yellowish or brown with dark brown spots on the flanks. The crest of longer hairs running down the back is less distinct. There are two dark lines on each cheek, a whitish throat, black feet and tail-tip and black stripes on legs and chest. Their ears are pointed and large with dark grey to black fur and sometimes a pale marking on the posterior side. Claws are retractile and sharply curved.
Two subspecies have been identified on the basis of colour pattern. Leopardus braccatus braccatus is more or less entirely rusty-brown with faint spots, incessant bands and a prominent black tip on the tail, and all-black feet. While L. b. munoai is paler and more yellowish, has discontinuous rings and a narrow black tip on the tail, flanks have spots that are browner and more distinct and the feet are black on the soles.
As far as wild melanistic specimen is concerned there is only one report from Brazil, though this coat pattern has also been found in some captive animals.
Distribution and habitat
Pantanal cats are named after their habitat — Pantanal wetlands of Paraguay, Bolivia and east-central Brazil. In addition to these countries this feline is also found in Argentina and Uruguay. Apart from Pantanal wetlands these cats are found from sea level up to the altitude of 2,000 metres (6,600 ft), inhabiting a range of habitats from open grassland to dense forests. They have also been reported from agricultural land.
There are two subspecies of these cats.
- Leopardus braccatus braccatus — occurs in parts of north-eastern Argentina, extreme eastern Bolivia, central Brazil and eastern Paraguay.
- Leopardus braccatus munoai — occurs in Uruguay and Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.
Behaviour and diet
These solitary cats are active usually during daytime and their home range covers 3 to 37 square kilometres (1.2 to 14.3 sq mi). They feed on small mammals, such as cavies (belonging to the group of rodents), reptiles like small lizards and snakes and ground-dwelling birds. In many ways they are believed to be akin in behaviour and biology to the colocolo. Hybrids between Pantanal cats and oncilla are known from Brazil.