Hidden cameras have captured images of the world's least-known cat. The toothy feline - a bay cat – was snapped as it slinked through a Borneo rainforest, according to a paper in the latest issue of PLoS ONE.
The bay cat, Pardofelis badia, was photographed for the first time in the wild in 2003, with just a handful of other images taken since then. Only 2,500 bay cats are thought to exist in the world, and that number comes from a probably outdated 2007 estimate.
They are gorgeous wild felines, endemic to the island of Borneo where this latest image was snapped. Their fur is colored bright chestnut, and their white-streaked tails taper gracefully at the end.
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The image adds to growing evidence that at least five rare cats all live on Borneo, which is the third largest island in the world. (Greenland is No. 1 and New Guinea is No. 2.)
The other rare cats include the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi), leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps) and marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata).
"We discovered that randomly placed cameras have a big influence on the species recorded," Oliver Wearn of the Zoological Society of London and Imperial College London, who worked on the study, said in a press release.
"This is something I was taught in school," Wearn said. "I remember doing a project on which plant species were most abundant on our playing field, and being taught to fling quadrats over my shoulder in a random direction before seeing what plants lay within it, rather than placing it somewhere that looked like a good place to put it – the same principle applies here."
As Wearn indicates, camera traps often work extremely well. Many wild animals are experts at spotting and avoiding conservationists, which probably look just like hunters to them, even if conservationists try to be as inconspicuous as possible, often sitting silently for hours on end hoping to spot certain animals.
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Camera traps, on the other hand, can remain in place for months at a time, no matter the weather. The animals smell our human "scent" too, and run when they detect us around. The bay cat is a predator, but a small one, so it wouldn't be eager to take on a person.
We can be a danger to all of these wild cats, though.
"We were completely surprised to see so many bay cats at these sites in Borneo where natural forests have been so heavily logged for the timber trade," Robert Ewers of Imperial College London and who leads the SAFE tropical forest conservation project in Borneo, explained.
"Conservationists used to assume that very few wild animals can live in logged forest, but we now know this land can be home for many endangered species," he added. "Our study today shows solid evidence that even large carnivores, such as these magnificent bay cats, can survive in commercially logged forests."
It's a wake up call, however. The wild cats are still hanging on, trying to survive in spite of the bad situation. A lot of the logging is done to make way for palm oil plantations.
The researchers say more detailed work is needed to gather the information palm oil producers need to make their plantations more mammal-friendly, and to determine whether saving patches of forest within larger areas might be a viable option for saving Borneo's wild cats and other native species.
Photo: Oliver Wearn, SAFE Project