nayer_bio

Nayer Youakim, our cat enthusiast, shares notes of his adventures traveling the world in search of some fantastic felids.

Meet the Andean cat:

Andean cat. © Nayer Youakim

Common names: Andean cat
Scientific name: Leopardus jacobita
Conservation status: Endangered (IUCN Red List)

Some animals are so rarely encountered by humans that they earn an almost mythical status.

One of these is the Andean cat, an elegant greyish beast which silently patrols large areas of the Andes mountains in South America.

A benefit of places like zoos is that they often bring us much closer to animals which are rarely seen otherwise, but there aren’t any Andean cats in zoos either.

Experts believe that the few animals ever recorded in captivity were actually mistakenly identified specimens belonging to a similar-looking species, the pampas cat.

The Andean cat was on a very short list of animals (including the Javan rhinoceros and Bornean bay cat) for which I would make every effort to travel and have the opportunity to see a living specimen.

The chances of seeing one in the wild are so slim that my only realistic chance would be to see a tame pet or a rescued animal. Incidentally, there have been more reports of wild Andean cats being seen in recent years, but prior to my 2016 quest there were only about 30 known human encounters with this species!

I’d been arranging to start a work placement in Brazil when a friend highlighted a local news article stating that a young Andean cat had been rescued and was undergoing health checks that day at Vesty Pakos Zoo, in Bolivia, prior to its release.

I got excited. How amazing would it be if I could bring forward my work placement in Brazil, fly via Bolivia, and see this cat which so few people have ever had the privilege to encounter?

 

A mountain caracara over the Bolivian Andes. © Nayer Youakim

The Argentinian Andes, within the Andean cat’s known range in Salta province. © Nayer Youakim

Argentinian Andes. © Nayer Youakim

Amazingly, it happened. The cat remained at the zoo’s rehab unit for long enough that I could see it, and I was kindly granted permission.

So, just over a week after first reading the news article, and after a stopover in Colombia, I had the honor of a silent audience with “Jacobo,” the young male cat.

To minimise disturbance, and to minimise the risk of him being exposed to any diseases, he was in the zoo’s veterinary block in a quarantine enclosure. I could only look through small holes in the tarpaulin set back from one side of the enclosure, and had to keep my distance and keep silent. A very difficult feat when you’re so excited, and in the presence of such a beautiful and majestic animal.

He was lovely. He sat in his corner and posed nicely for photos. He seemed calm but a little curious as to what was happening on the other side of the enclosure’s screen, but we can’t really know what he felt.

 

“Jacobo” the Andean cat. © Nayer Youakim

 

After a while we decided that it was time to start exploring the rest of the zoo, but the excitement of my meeting with Jacobo will stay with me forever.

 

Vesty Pakos Zoo, Bolivia. © Nayer Youakim