Other Names
guigna, chat du Chili (French)
Chilenische Waldkatze, Nachtkatze (German)
güiña (Spanish)

  • Description and Behavior

  • Biology

  • Habitat and Distribution

  • Population Status

  • Protection Status

  • Principal Threats

  • References

  • Action Planning

  • Description and Behavior
    The kodkod is the smallest felid in the Americas, weighing an average of 2.2 kg (n=3: Greer 1965a). It is a buffy to brownish cat heavily patterned with small black spots. The kodkod is closely related to Geoffroy’s cat, of which it may be a subspecies -- they do not appear to be sympatric (Hemmer 1978a). The subject deserves further investigation, particularly in Argentina, where Geoffroy’s cat is more common and widely distributed, and has been collected near to the kodkod’s known range (Redford and Eisenberg 1992, O.N. Herrera in litt. 1992). In comparison to Geoffroy’s cat, the kodkod has a small face and much thicker tail (P. Quillen in litt. 1993). There is a high incidence of melanism (Cabrera and Yepes 1960, Osgood 1943, Greer 1965a) which, according to Miller and Rottmann (1976), increases with latitude, and is particularly common on Chiloé and Guaitecas islands. The kodkod has rather large feet, and well-developed arboreal abilities, sheltering in trees during inactive periods and climbing as an escape tactic when pursued (Housse 1953, Greer 1965a). Housse (1953) also notes that they den in bamboo thickets.

    Pearson (1983) examined the small mammal fauna of the southern Andean moist temperate forest, focusing on Argentina’s Nahuel Huapi National Park, where the kodkod is known to occur. He found that this forest type, with which the kodkod is strongly associated (see below), has a high diversity of mouse-sized rodents, but lacks diversity of larger mammals, noticeably of the arboreal type (no squirrels or monkeys). Most of the small rodents are terrestrial, semi-fossorial and diurnal. Kodkod stomachs have been found to contain remains of small rodents, Norwegian rat and birds (Koslowsky 1904, Housse 1953, Greer 1965a). Kodkods have also been reported to take poultry (Guggisberg 1975, Melquist 1984). While believed to be primarily nocturnal (Miller and Rottmann 1976), Green (1991) notes that most activity takes place during the day in captivity.

    The origin of the kodkod’s name is obscure. It may be from one of the Mapuche Indian dialects, and probably originally referred to the pampas cat (O. colocolo) -- "colocolo" may be a Spanish corruption of "kodkod" (F. Jaksic in litt. 1993). O. guigna is most commonly called the güiña (pronounced gwee-nya) in Chile and Argentina.

    Gestation (C): 72-78 days (P. Quillen in litt. 1993)

    Litter size (C): 1-3 (P. Quillen in litt. 1993); 3-4 (Housse 1953)

    Longevity (C): up to 11 years (Weigel 1975)

    No other information.

    Habitat and Distribution
    Found only in Argentina and Chile (Figure 1), the kodkod is strongly associated with the moist temperate mixed forests of the southern Andean and Coastal ranges, particularly the Valdivian forest of Chile, which is characterized by the presence of bamboo in the understory (IUCN 1992a). It ranges up to the treeline at approximately 1,900 (Miller and Rottmann 1976) to 2,500 m (Melquist 1984). In Argentina, the kodkod has been recorded from moist montane forest which has Valdivian characteristics, including a multi-layered structure with bamboo, and numerous lianas and epiphytes (Dimitri 1972, N.O. Herrera in litt. 1992). Most records (nine out of 10 in Redford and Eisenberg 1992) coincide with the original distribution of temperate moist Araucarian and Valdivian forest (37-48° S: Udvardy 1975, C. Weber in litt. 1993). J. Rottmann (in litt. 1993) describes the kodkod’s habitat associations in order of importance as

    1. evergreen temperate rainforest,
    2. deciduous temperate moist forest,
    3. sclerophyllous scrub, and
    4. coniferous forest.

    Sclerophyllous scrub occurs in central Chile, from about 30-37S (Udvardy 1975). Only one specimen has been collected from this habitat type, which is structurally and faunistically quite different from the Valdivian forest. That specimen (from the Valparaiso area, 33° S) was described as paler than the Valdivian kodkods, with a larger skull and heavier dentition. Osgood (1943), who classified the specimen as a separate subspecies (O.g. molinae), remarked on its similarity to the "salt desert" race of Geoffroy’s cat, found in the Andes of north-western Argentina, and speculated that further specimens might arise to link the two cats, although this has not occurred. In Chile, Geoffroy’s cats are known to occur only in the Nothofagus beech forests of the far south, and this race of Geoffroy’s cats bears little resemblance to the Valdivian kodkod (Cabrera 1961). It is puzzling that the kodkod should show such marked differences in habitat association, implying a broad habitat selectivity, and still have such a restricted distribution, implying narrow selectivity.

    Moreover, the kodkod is tolerant of altered habitats, being found in secondary forest and shrub as well as primary forest, and on the fringes of settled and cultivated areas. C. Weber (in litt. 1993) notes that the Valparaiso area, where the kodkod is still present, has been settled for over 1,000 years, and was deforested, except for small remnant patches, at least 150 years ago.

    Population Status
    Global: Category 2
    Regional: Category 1
    IUCN: Indeterminate

    The kodkod has historically been described as quite common (Osgood 1943, Cabrera and Yepes 1960). However, in the dry scrub of central Chile, 10% of the country’s area but home to two-thirds of its population (Weber 1983), habitat loss has led to localized and patchy distribution (J. Rottmann in litt. 1993). In general, however, the southern forested part of its range is well protected and sparsely populated by humans. Even where its habitat has been altered, such as in central Chile, where 15,000 km2 of pine and eucalyptus plantations have been established (C. Weber in litt. 1993), kodkods may do well as rodent populations thrive (J. Rottmann pers. comm. in Melquist 1984).

    The kodkod seems to live at higher densities on Chiloé Island (Melquist 1984), possibly linked to the absence of the puma, grey fox and Andean fox (J. Rottmann in litt. 1993). In the mid-1800s, the German naturalist Philippi described groups of kodkods raiding chicken houses, with up to 20 cats being killed by farmers in a single day (Cabrera and Yepes 1960, Guggisberg 1975). Farmers there still complain of poultry depredation by the kodkod (Melquist 1984).

    Protection Status
    Protection Status: CITES Appendix II.

    National Legislation:
    Fully protected in Argentina and Chile (Fuller et al. 1987)

    Principal Threats
    Because of its restricted distribution, the kodkod is particularly vulnerable to habitat loss, the primary cause of reduced numbers in the north of its range. However, there is presently little forest clearance for agricultural purposes, and most monoculture plantations are being established on abandoned agricultural lands (C. Weber in litt. 1993). Logging of the Chilean Valdivian forest is increasing for export to Japan (Ancient Forest International [AFI] 1990, F. Jaksic in litt. 1993), but a substantial proportion (36%) is protected (WCMC 1992: 453), and logging is not necessarily a threat to the kodkod because of its use of secondary vegetation (J. Rottmann in litt. 1993). There are also several large protected areas within its range in Argentina (Melquist 1984, O.N. Herrera in litt. 1992). J. Rottmann (in litt. 1993) mentions fox hunting (both legal and illegal, with dogs and traps) as a potential threat, citing unpublished data showing that 1-5% of fox hunter kills are small cats. Melquist (1984), however, only once saw a garment of what appeared to be kodkod pelts in a local market.

    © 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union