As America’s smallest wild cat, the kodkod, nears extinction, Chilean activists, together with National Geographic, to create a conservation plan, the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity (IEB) reported Tuesday.
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"With this initiative we are looking for the smallest threats facing the güiña (or kodkod) today,” the IEB said.
Funded by the Ministry of Environment (MMA), the Institute of Agricultural Development (Indap), National Geographic, the benefits of the project which was initially proposed by the National Forestry Corporation (Conaf) will create a domino effect in the ecosystem, experts say.
“The protection of this cat works as an 'umbrella', since many other species will be indirectly benefited by the measures contemplated in this plan, helping also to the conservation of temperate rainforest and sclerophyllous,” said IEB scientist and project director, Constanza Napolitano.
"The güiña plays an important ecosystemic role because it consumes almost exclusively rodents, which indirectly controls the hantavirus and pests in general," the IEB scientists said.
The miniature leopard, scientifically referred to as the Leopardus Guigna, can grow just over 50 centimeters and populates seven regions of Chile’s forest lands, as well as parts of southwestern Argentina.
Attacks from wild dogs as well as urban development have driven up the dangers to the species. For this reason, conservationists proposed the sterilization both of dogs and cats, the latter as a preventative method for the odd cross breeding.
"The fragmentation and destruction of the habitat is difficult to address because of its great extension and because it has many actors involved, such as the real estate industry, the plots of land and subdivision of the land, the density of people with dogs and cats in rural areas, or forestry companies, all of them wanting to maximize profits,” said Napolitano.
The wildcat was first listed on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1996 after a 70 percent habitat loss. Experts say there are around 10,000 still roaming the forests of Chile.