Language: Bilingual in English and Italian
This study reports the results of the first systematic survey on the status of the Andean Mountain Cat (Oreailurus jacobita) and the other carnivores inhabiting the high altitude (> 3000 m a.s.l.) regions of the proposed Anconquija National Park, NW Argentina. It also analysed the carnivore geographical and ecological distributions and attempted to understand the factors affecting their variations. During 41 days, 2-4 experienced researchers intensively searched for presence of all carnivore signs in five areas, ranging in altitude from 3200 to 4500 m. Field worle was supported by interviewing local people on cat occurrence. 255 carnivore signs (mainly scats) were found, belonging to small cats (48.6%), puma (Puma concolor) (6.7%). foxes (the culpoeofox, Pseudalopex culpaeus and the grey fox, P. griseus) (27.8%), and hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus sp., probably chinga) (13.7%). On average, almost 2h10’ were necessary per researcher to find a carnivore sign. Small cat scats were collected in all areas. However, carnivore guild varied among areas and – possibly – with altitude in both composition and relative specific abundance. Skunk sites were most abundant at low altitudes, while the opposite was true for the puma. Though most carnivore sites were in close proximity of streams, specific differences in habitat features were found. Foxes’ and puma signs tended to occur in patches with light slopes, while cats appeared to prefer steep, rocky, areas. Skunk sites occurred more frequently in open, grassy habitats than those of the other carnivores. Cat sites often showed association with Mountain viscachas (Lagidium viscacia) colonies. Prey availability, in particular that of Mt. viscachas, and human disturbance are proposed to affect carnivore distribution and relative abundance. The finding of an Andean Mountain Cat skull, interview results and the characteristics of the habitat surveyed are the reasons why we attributed to O. jacobita the cat scats we collected. On the base of our results, we suggest the existence of interspecific food, habitat and spatial segregation. We also discuss advantages and drawbacks of our sampling strategy as a method to collect more, much needed, data on the carnivore community of these very little known regions.
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