Puritama Conservation Reserve: Home to the Andean Cat

THE PURITAMA CONSERVATION RESERVE

The Puritama Conservation Reserve, located in the depths of an Andean canyon in the Atacama Desert, holds a unique ecoregion, where the Andean Altiplano and the driest desert in the world meet at the great lake of the Atacama Salt Marsh.

It is located 60 kilometers north of the town of San Pedro de Atacama, is an oasis of water and vegetation along the Puritama River from the Altiplano to the Atacama Desert.

The reserve covers an area of 6,000 hectares in the Puritama River valley and contains 39 types of plant formations subdivided into categories such as scrub, prairie scrub, grass scrublands, among others. Its varied fauna includes different varieties of birds, insects, and animals, including the Andean cat (Leopardus jacobita), a threatened species that Explora has been monitoring since 2010 with the support of 13 cameras located throughout the Conservation Reserve.

THE ANDEAN CAT (LEOPARDUS JACOBITA)

The Andean cat is one of the most unknown, rarest, and threatened cats in the world. It is also called “the Ghost of the Andes” because of how hard it is to see. Its body is small – twice the size of a domestic cat – gray with brown spots and a long bushy tail with rings, helping it to blend into its habitat.

It is estimated that there are currently 1,400 Andean cats and they live under extreme temperatures in the high altitudes of Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, with viscachas being their main source of food.

To protect it, Exlora works together with the Andean Cat Alliance (AGA) to monitor the reserve and in activities carried out with the community, whose research, conservation, and education work aims for the long-term conservation of the Andean cat and its habitat.

Explora’s challenge began in 2010 with the goal of creating the largest private conservation reserve in northern Chile, the Puritama Conservation Reserve project, which seeks to be a place that amplifies knowledge and learning process of the new generations and people who want to preserve nature and Atacameño culture.

In-depth exploration of the places we are in has driven us from the beginning, but we know that this carries a great responsibility, which is to act as protectors of the land entrusted to us and to protect all its fauna, especially those in danger of extinction.

ANDEAN CAT AND ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES

The Andean cat is of particular importance to local indigenous communities and is the object of worship related to prosperity in crops and livestock. For Andean communities like Quechua and Aymara peoples, this animal plays a fundamental role in the livestock flowering festivities that are held in the Andean altiplano in January and February, where they ask it for the flock’s well-being and strong reproduction.

High Andean culture associates it with the “mallku”, the spirit of the mountains and owner of all the wildlife, imbuing it with powerful symbolism in addition to being the earthly nexus between the natural and the supernatural worlds. This can be seen in numerous petroglyphs in various parts of the territory.