Rare Cat Catch

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Science  28 May 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5675, pp. 1239
DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5675.1239c
CREDIT: CONSTANZA NAPOLITANO

Scientists have at long last caught a rarely seen mountain cat in the Bolivian Andes.

“The cat world is buzzing,” says mammalogist Jim Sanderson of Conservation International, who last month helped local scientists capture and radio-collar the 4.5-kg, 59-cm-long (not counting the tail) predator. “This is the most endangered cat in the Americas.” Hardly anything is known about the elusive feline, which Sanderson has been trailing for 6 years.

Scientists are now trying to determine the range of the Andean mountain cat (Oreailurus jacobita). They predict that creating a conservation plan will be a challenge. Sanderson says the animal he tagged (see photo) would have ripped him to shreds if she hadn't been drugged. But because the cats lack a hard-wired fear of humans, locals easily kill them with rocks. The dead cats are believed to have magical powers.

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