With the first annual World Geoffroy’s Cat Day just behind us, researcher and founder of the Geoffroys’ Cat Working Group (GCWG), Flávia P. Tirelli, talks about the conservation work taking place to help save the tiny lesser known wild cat of South America.
Please tell me about your background and why you decided to focus on the Geoffroy’s Cat?
I was born in southern Brazil in the Pampas and I often heard tales of the wild felids that inhabited the region. My grandparents, who are farmers, would always tell me how common it was to see wild cats when they were young, but now they are seemingly vanishing. Inspired by this, I set out to study these small wild cat species to understand their ecology and fight for their conservation.
How does your research help the Geoffroy’s Cat?
My studies aim to provide a clearer understanding of the Geoffroy’s cat populations dynamics in a human-dominated landscape in the Brazilian pampas.
This is paramount to the development of viable regional management plans for this felid. By viable we mean actions that will assemble economic activity and fauna conservation.
Understanding the patterns of variation in the biology and ecology of the Geoffroy’s cat across its range of distribution should help design effective conservation strategies. This will allow the long-term persistence of this felid in the variety of habitats in which it occurs.
What surprises most people about this tiny wild cat?
- Their preference for natural areas like native forest, their avoidance of roads, and their nocturnal habits. Diurnal activity is limited to native forest, in the Brazilian pampas. These behavioral characteristics enable this small cat to persist in a human-dominated landscape in which other felids have already declined or disappeared completely.
- The geographical variation in the relationship between body size and home range which suggests stronge influence by sexual selection.
- They are not as solitary as we think. They overlap home ranges even with no kinship relation, or sex organization (where both sexes overlap). This indicates that individual tolerance and relaxation in territories may occur in the Geoffroy’s cat.
In South America how do people view the Geoffroy’s cat?
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the population does not even know these cats exist. For instance, whenever a cat is found usually in the form of roadkill local news will say it is an ocelot’s cub. This shows how important it is for us to spread the word about the small felids of the Brazilian Pampas.
What would you consider to be the most pressing issue facing these cats?
Above all, habitat loss is the main threat among its entire distribution, but each different region has their own threats that should be mitigated locally.
Tell me about the recently formed GCWG
The GCWG was created on the 1st of December 2020 as part of the Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation. It is a global network of researchers and conservationists who are committed to engaging in conservation actions to preserve this small and little-known cat. We aim to help the survival of Geoffroy’s cat populations and their natural habitats across its entire distribution range by providing financial and technical means to enable actions.
My role as coordinator is to collect members that work locally with the species and to involve them in a network for the species conservation. I engage and create mitigation action locally, define our strategy/management as well as organize our budget and to help find funds for GCWG.
How will the GCWG help change attitudes?
We plan to start by spreading the word. Firstly, People need to know the species, the cats biology and threats. This makes it easier for them to become supportive of our efforts.
The main strategy is to sensitize people and help those who live in close proximity to these animals relate to the wild cat that lives where they live.
How important is it to engage local communities?
To engage and empower local communities, especially the young ones, is crucial for the species survival. I know we can do it because it happened to me, I am from a local community. I studied, have a PhD in Zoology and work on wild cat research and conservation.
What is the best way for people to help?
I would say for people to get to know the cat. This will enable us to create and work with a network of volunteers.
- Learn their characteristics and how to identify them in the field
- Understand the threats they face
- Share this information with as many people as possible
Volunteers could use their own phones to take pictures, exchange information, etc… This will actively help these cats to survive and thrive.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
We all need to come together to build this network to help the Geoffroy’s Cat.
This includes local communities, conservationists, researchers and governmental institutions. Children, artists, media and other players are encouraged to be involved.
We all have a role in helping!
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For more information and how to help:
Follow the Geoffroy’s Cat Working Group on Instagram
For those in South America, in particular in Brazil, please check out Pro Carnivoros.org