Saving The Geoffroy’s Cat

With the first annual World Geoffroy’s Cat Day just behind us, I reached out to researcher and founder of the Geoffroys’ Cat Working Group (GCWG), Flávia P. Tirelli, to find out more about the vital conservation work taking place to help save the Geoffroy’s Cat and her role in leading a movement to celebrate and protect local wildlife.

Image Credit: Instagram

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 since I was a little girl 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 were 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 spatial dynamics in a human-dominated landscape in the Brazilian pampas, which 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.

Additionally, 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 that allow the long-term persistence of this felid in the variety of habitats in which it occurs.

To engage and empower local communities, especially teaching 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 and now I have a PhD in Zoology working on wild cat research and conservation.

What surprises most people when they first learn about this tiny wild cat?

  • Their preference for natural areas like native forest and water, their avoidance of roads, and their essentially nocturnal habits, with diurnal activity limited to native forest, in the Brazilian pampas. These are likely to be behavioral characteristics that enable this small cat to persist, with a reasonably high population density, 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 size across their range which suggests that the ecology of this felid, is strongly influenced 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 inter-individual tolerance and relaxation in territories may occur in the Geoffroy’s cat.

In South America, what are the attitudes towards the Geoffroy’s cat like?

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the population does not even know these cats exist. Even in local news whenever a cat is found, usually in the form of roadkill, it is referred to as an ocelot’s cub. That 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?

Habitat loss is the main threat among its entire distribution, but each different region has theirs own threats that should be mitigated locally.

You recently formed the GCWG along with the Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation. Please tell me about your role as coordinator and importance of this collaboration.

The GCWG was created on the 1st of December 2020 as part of Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation. 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 enact actions. 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.

My role as coordinator is to collect members that work locally with the species, to involve them in a network for the species conservation, to engage them to create mitigation action locally, to define our strategy and management, to organize our budget and to help find funds for GCWG.

Image Credit: Instagram

How will the GCWG help change attitudes towards the species?

We plan to start by spreading the word. People need to know the species, their biology and conservation threats in order 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 in same places they live.

How important is it to engage and empower local communities so they can be part of conserving their wildlife heritage?

To engage and empower local communities, especially teaching 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 and now I have a PhD in Zoology working on wild cat research and conservation.

What is the best way for people, especially those who live in South America, to get involved in helping the Geoffroy’s Cat? 

I would say the most important way people can help and support our work is to get to know the cat.

  • 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

This base knowledge will enable us to create and work with a network of volunteers, who will then act as the eyes and ears on the ground. Volunteers could, for example, use their own phones to take pictures, exchange information, etc…  and 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, governmental institutions, children, artists, media and many other players. We all can have a role in helping!

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

Image Credit: Instagram
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