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Paws For Thought: Geoffroy's Cat

Who?  The Geoffroy's cat.

Where?  The star of the second chapter of Paws for Thought is a proud native of southern Chile, as well as of Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, and prowls through altitudes of between sea level and 3,300 metres, ranging down to the Straits of Magellan, making it, alongside the puma, the world's most southerly feline!

Why am I interested?  Did you know that this August 10th was World Lion Day? Well, here at Cascada we don’t see why the king of beasts should always get the, er, lion’s share of the attention, so we’re getting our claws out in the feline fight to defend the corner of the shy, solitary Geoffroy’s cat!

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The graceful Geoffroy's cat

Put your paws together for the Geoffroy's cat...

Much more commonly sighted in other South American countries, the Geoffroy’s cat is considered to be endangered in southern Chile, and is notoriously difficult to spot, rivalling even the ghostly puma for elusivity! In northerly areas of the continent, their fur is a brownish-yellow ochre, whilst, as we get further south into Chile, it turns a beautiful silver-grey. Their distinctive markings are characterised by black stripes and spots, with rings encircling their black-tipped tails. Geoffroy’s cats tend to live ten to fifteen years in the wild and, though never measuring in at much bigger than your average house cat, they range in size too, with the largest slinking through the trees of the Patagonian forest, and the smallest living further north.

Cats which defy categorisation

Carnivorous Geoffroy’s cats feast mainly on lizards, birds, insects, rodents and hares, but they have a few quirks which make them quite unlike your normal cat. Many local communities have nicknamed them the ‘fishing cats’ as they have been known to catch fish and frogs from rivers with their razor-sharp claws. Some have even been witnessed swimming across rivers one hundred metres wide, proving themselves to be strong swimmers and no scaredy cats when it comes to water!

Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire

This French Naturalist brought these cats out of the chat-dows after travelling to South America in the early nineteenth century, and then going on to study our new favourite feline in Paris, where he held a post as a professor of zoology. Geoffroy identified its five major subspecies and the cats were named after him, in honour of his work.

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Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772 - 1844)

Lone rangers

These cats are predominantly solitary, and mainly nocturnal, spending long, lazy days dozing in the comfortable nooks of tree branches. They are also the nosy meerkats of the feline world, having been seen to stand up on their hind legs to improve their view of the surrounding landscape, using their tails to stop them toppling over. Our furry friends head out to hunt at dusk and dawn, and are superstar climbers, often taking their prey with them up into the branches to enjoy dinner with the purr-fect view.

Cuddly pets?

Breeders managed first to produce hybrids in the 1970s by crossing the Geoffroy’s cat with domestic cats, creating the extremely fashionable safari cat. These cats are highly affectionate and tame, whilst also retaining an exotic je ne sais quoi thanks to their wild roots, and this has made them very attractive pets for those who can afford to spend a pretty penny. But, of course, this comes with all the usual controversy which meets hybrid cats and designer pets...

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Some pet-owners want to walk on the wild side...

In danger

The beautiful markings of the Geoffroy’s cat have regrettably proved to be both a blessing and a curse. A roaring fur trade, exporting namely to the European fashion industry between the 1960s and the 1980s, has left the situation of these cats increasingly precarious, especially within its southerly Chilean range. In the past, tens of thousands of pelts were exported from South America every year. Thankfully, Geoffroy’s cat is now a CITES Appendix 1 listed species, and the sale of their pelts has been outlawed in Europe. Deforestation, and the resulting loss of their natural habitat, is another dangerous reality threatening to affect wild Geoffroy’s cats. They continue to be captured illegally for their fur, to be sold as exotic pets and to be bred with domestic cats, making it all the more important that efforts are made to protect this precious Patagonian resident.

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"I'm not sleeping! Oh okay, you caught meow-t..."

Don't let the cat get your tongue - if you have any suggestions of other Chilean animals you would like to see profiled, don't hesitate to let us know! And whilst you're at it, cast an eye over some other members of the Patagonian wildlife scene.