This Tiny, Rare Cat May Look Adorable, But In Southern Chile, It’s Known As A Bad Omen For Famine, Disease, Or Even Death

Martin Mecnarowski - illustrative purposes only, not the actual cat

Across cultures and civilizations, animals have served as symbols of superstition. Their presence, behavior, and characteristics are interpreted as omens of some kind of future event. For instance, there’s the wise owl of Greek mythology or the unlucky black cat that signifies misfortune and death.

In southern Chile, a tiny, spotted cat with a bushy tail and large, round eyes prowls through rural forested areas and farmland. This adorable feline is called the kodkod or güiña in Chile. It weighs about five pounds and is the smallest wild cat species in the Americas.

The kodkod is considered vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. It is threatened by habitat loss, human hunters, and disease spread by domestic cats and dogs. While the kodkod looks extremely cute and cuddly, just one glimpse of the cat can make a farmer quake with fear.

According to stories from the Indigenous Mapuche, the predator can bring famine, disease, or death. It is also known for raiding chicken coops.

Superstitions involving these cats are common in rural areas of southern Chile. A 2013 paper published in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine revealed some of the legends surrounding the tiny feline.

Many students and members of the Mapuche community believe that the cats have supernatural powers, such as being unaffected by bullets or ripping the heads off of chickens to drink their blood. The latter is based on the kodkod’s preference for eating only the head and neck of a chicken.

In the 2013 study, one participant imparted ancient beliefs they heard from a neighbor. Apparently, when the kodkod enters a henhouse to prey on the poultry, it spells bad luck, as famine, poverty, or any type of illness may befall the owner.

Some say that simply catching sight of a kodkod will bring misfortune. The origins of the superstition are difficult to trace, but the stories about the kodkod are more prevalent in communities where chicken farms are abundant.

The cat’s bad reputation is likely linked to the fact that it is so elusive. Other predators that are not seen regularly, like pumas and owls, also have negative connotations in Mapuche culture.

Martin Mecnarowski – illustrative purposes only, not the actual cat

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