August 29th, 2011
03:37 PM ET

Scientists capture rare video of elusive African cat

Scientists tracking one of Africa’s most elusive and poorly understood animals say they’ve recorded a rare - and possibly the only publicly released - video of the species in the wild.

The video, recorded by a motion-activated camera placed in a Gabon forest, shows an African golden cat: a shy, medium-sized feline that ducks human contact and lives in hard-to-access parts of central African forests.

A motion-activated camera captured this image of an African golden cat in Gabon, and the video above.

“As far as we know, it’s never before been filmed (in the wild) for ... the public domain,” said Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, the conservation group providing most of the funding for the team that captured the video in July.

The footage, photos and other information that the team is gathering - part of an effort to get a population estimate in certain areas of Gabon’s forests - could contribute to a greater understanding of the species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which lists the animal as near-threatened, says it is not only infrequently observed in the wild, it is “Africa’s least studied felid.”

Graduate student Laila Bahaa-el-din is leading the survey team, which hopes its population estimates in four categories of Gabonese forest can give governments, logging companies and other groups useful information to help preserve the species.

“I don’t think I can put (capturing the video) into words,” Bahaa-el-din said of the rarity of the footage. “I live and dream golden cats most days. To get back to camp and put the (footage) on the computer and have this cat basically posing for the camera, it’s incredible. I watched it five times in a row and pretty much didn’t sleep that night.”

Bahaa-el-din said the video was captured in one of Gabon’s better-managed logging concessions: an area leased to a logging company. After she and a field assistant spent three weeks prospecting the area, they set 40 sets of still-camera traps, each activated by motion, and returned to collect photos roughly every two weeks for a seven-week period. After photos showed that a golden cat was getting close to one camera, she decided to set a video camera at that station.

Days later, she had several clips of an African golden cat walking and lounging during the day and one at night, chasing what appeared to be a bat.

Bahaa-el-din will survey three more areas through 2012: a more loosely managed logging area; an area where humans hunt; and pristine forest. Besides taking photos, the team is checking waste from golden cats and leopards to determine what those animals are eating and whether humans’ hunting of leopard prey is forcing leopards to compete with golden cats for food.

Many of the team

The data could show whether golden cats thrive better in better-managed logging area than loosely managed ones and whether different hunting regulations would be useful, Bahaa-el-din and Hunter said.

The golden cat is so shy and limited to deep forests, people rarely get glimpses of them in the wild, let alone snap pictures. Thus the animal has hardly been studied, said Hunter and Bahaa-el-din, who is registered with South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal, in partnership with the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit.

And the survey may challenge at least one belief about the animal.

“Until now, if you read things on the Internet and in (scientific) literature, they’re called nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn or dusk),” Bahaa-el-din said. “But a large number of photo captures I get are during the day.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature says that although there are no reliable density estimates, the world's population of mature golden cats probably exceeded 10,000 in 2007.

Several experts of African wildlife said the Panthera video is very rare. One, Tom Butynski, director of Saudi Arabia’s King Khalid Wildlife Research Center, said he has seen one video of an African golden cat in the wild, taken in March in Kenya. That video, however, doesn’t appear to be in the public domain.

On the Internet, ARKive has a clip of an African golden cat, but it was taken in captivity in Germany in 1976, ARKive personnel say. Panthera says it knows of no African golden cat in captivity today.

“Still photos are nice, but the video can raise the public profile of the species, which is important,” said Bahaa-el-din’s field supervisor, Philipp Henschel. “I hope this video gets people like nonscientists interested in the species and ... thinking about conservation of the animal.”

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Filed under: Animals • Gabon • Nature
soundoff (94 Responses)
  1. Sheryl

    How much are the coats?

    August 29, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • sallie

      sickening, inappropriate, and entirely not funny.

      August 29, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary-Anne

      You're a jerk

      August 29, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bimbo the Birthday Clown

    Cool cat. Until it craps on your lawn.

    August 29, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sheryl

    I have a canary diamond that would go with that wrap nicely...yes, but I think that my 12 ct. padparadscha sapphire would be stunning against it!

    August 29, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aliha Muse

      That's disgusting as it is wrong.

      August 29, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • HNl

      Are you that ugly to need an animal fur to make you look better? Or is that what your peep wants to see on you?

      August 29, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • munkittrick

      Not only is fur cool to wear out with my "peeps"...It warms my heart knowing that there is one less of these animals doing harm to those dumb, seemingly racist non-scientists. (facetiously spoken, of course)

      August 29, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. drap

    I hear that Palin is looking for a new rug... .

    August 29, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anchorite

      No, at "near threatened" it's not rare enough. She won't obliterate any animal unless it's at least endangered or critically endangered.

      August 29, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ape $#!T

    Pretty kitty.. She loves bananas.. Get in this ß!Ť©#... Always get in a ß!Ť©}{ when a room full of gorillas tell you to.. Really a pretty cat though. You want the ones the Gorillas tell you to stay out of..

    August 29, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. King Julian Crisco

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pM7ANaNSznc&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    August 29, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. VICTORIA BAIRD

    Guess you need a Beautiful dead animal around your body to distract from your short comings.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jordan scene

    *sigh*
    You people and your lousy jokes should relocate yourselves to some sort of amateur comedian web blog. I think its pretty cool people are finding an invasive way to study and help these animals we still know so little about.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amature Hour

      @Jordan scene: Fart... Hahahahahahahahahaha... Obviously we thought the article was cool enough to read. Wouldn't expect someone named Jordan to be so high brow..

      August 29, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • William

      I agree. The immaturity is boring at times. We should all be embracing these rare and special cats.

      August 29, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sheryl

    I don't really need a coat made out of Mrs. Wilson's old cat.
    I much prefer baby seal.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Sheryl

    It is cool.
    That they can do it, I mean.
    Can you?

    August 29, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Magilla

      Don't really want to... Feels kinda set up and too convenient.. I prefer to hunt instead of being the hunted. Nahhh mean?

      August 29, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. The Selfish Meme

    How much did this cost or who funds these groups? How much funding? I mean, hey, its a fantastic cat! I love it! Let's protect it!

    August 29, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Chris

    WANT.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sheryl

    BTW–wouldn't in be better if their way were not "invasive?"
    Actually, it's not very invasive.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. William

    What a stunning cat. Wish we would spend more time protecting their habitat instead of facilitating the continued explosion of the stupid human race.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. McLovin Life

    I heard it tastes similar ro bald eagle but not a gamey as panda..

    August 29, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
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