A new video published by National Geographic as part of their Photo Ark series may be the first ever recording of the call of one of the world’s smallest cats. The Chilean güiña is about half the size of a domestic housecat and while it looks a little like a cheetah cub it chirrups more like a bird.
As the smallest wild cat in the Western Hemisphere, the Chilean güiña, Leopardus guigna, also called a Kodkod, is found creeping in the shadows of woodland and temperate forest regions throughout Chile and a sliver of Argentina. Weighing just 2-3 kilograms (3-7 pounds) with a body length of about 52 centimeters (20.5 inches), they’re rarely spotted in the wild and are extremely shy.
These elusive pint-sized predators recently joined the National Geographic Photo Ark database as photographer Joel Sartore captured their likeness and vocalizations on camera. The project began in an effort to establish a database of wildlife portraits celebrating global biodiversity, and the kodkod is the 10,000th entry to join the portfolio joining other charismatic species including the Sunda Pangolin and Cotton-top Tamarin.
The photographed individual was, like many of Sartore’s subjects, from captivity, specifically the Fauna Andina, a licensed wildlife reserve and rehabilitation center in south-central Chile. It’s one of the few wildlife centers in the world to house güiñas and looks after individuals injured in the wild, which can sometimes be released. The two known subspecies of güiñas are vulnerable to extinction according to the IUCN Red List, which is largely the result of their shrinking habitat range.
The cameras were rolling during Sartore’s photoshoot producing an adorable short clip that reveals exactly what these agile hunters sound like. According to National Geographic representatives, it marks the first time this rare animal’s vocalizations have been caught on camera. The repetitive chirping is probably indicative of pleasure or excitement according to Fauna Andina’s founder Vidal Mugica’s observations. While the exact meaning of the vocalizations is still poorly understood, these captive animals will serve as a Rosetta stone for the species, enabling observational scientists to crack the code of their cute calls.