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. Just a guy

    William.. Why don't you just ask Jordan for his/her number and get it over with? Too busy running from marauding bandits are we? *sigh*

    August 29, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    @ William:
    I agree with you on the world population issue, especially in the USA.
    How could African golden cats help?
    By eating more Soylent Green?

    August 29, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. nambi

    I hope the average American isn't represented by the intelligence displayed on this board.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • mcg

      It is. Sorry.

      August 29, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • LuisWu

      No, it's just a few ignorant retards that have nothing better to do because they have no life and they're so jealous of people who do. They can't interact with real people so they just bash people and things on the internet to take out their frustrations. Just a few pathetic losers. Most people just watch the video or read the article and don't even read the comments. When they do, they're probably so turned off by these pathetic comments that they don't bother to answer them or post a comment on the article. It's just sad that the pathetic losers seem to post the majority of comments.

      August 29, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • jfk1971

      We aren't but there are some awful people who get their thrills inciting other people on these posts, I'm embarassed to say. Nature, this cat certainly, deserves better treatment, much better treatment, than many humans. Please don't lose faith in us. The vast majority of us are better than this.

      August 29, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. McSheep

    Hi McJesus!... I will do anything you say.. Baa baa..

    August 29, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    @ William:
    You posted re race and nationality after I agreed with you.
    Our agreement is not 100%.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Paul

    I think it's hysterical how all cats, from domestic cats to rare elusive ones like this, behave, well, like cats. Easily distracted, uncontrollably attracted to quick motion, possessing the "kitty-freakout" button that turns a relaxed looking animal into a flying ball of furry fury in a split second. Seeing a video of this one might make people more concerned about the species, but it will also make other people want to make coats out of it.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. William

    @Joey: Really this story is about Africa.. They injected race not me, so I happily obliged. I don't really care what you think.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. pointless1

    Cool.. just another animal for some trophy hunter to mount on a wall...

    August 29, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      why so effin negative

      August 29, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Heywood Jablowme

    I thought CNN was getting into posting pictures of hot cougars!

    August 29, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. BOB

    Bigot report. You're number 1.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • King Of All Blacks

      Thank you for that.. We will disregard any prior racist feelings or comments you have ever made. It's really refreshing to meet a cool white guy. I'm so happy this world isn't ALL bad.

      August 29, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    @ William:
    I didn't expect you to care about what I think.
    I care that others know what I think about racism.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Catwoman

    What a beautiful animal! Cats rule!

    August 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Big Daddy

    I am no English major but shouldn't the headline be something like "Scientist capture rare African Cat on video", instead of "Scientist capture rare video of elusive African cat"? It sounds like they captured the video. Just saying. By the way, the cat is beautiful.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • jb

      Even your version could lead a reader to think that scientists had captured one of these cats while someone videotaped the proceedings. I volunteer "Scientists Video Rare African Cat."

      August 29, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • DAT

      As the article says: "As far as we know, it’s never before been filmed (in the wild) for ... the public domain", soooo the headline seems just fine. You're right, you're no English major.

      August 29, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jlf

    comgrats on a magnificent find;another one of god's beautiful creatures. thanks for sharing!

    August 29, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • JamieLyn

      BEAUTIFUL! Its so exciting to find one of gods creatures and learn something new!! to the rest of you please stop with the negativity! the world is hard enough without people like you causing adversity.

      August 29, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    @ Big Daddy:
    That's what happens when thinking becomes too linear.
    Your headline could be for a video of the capture of the cat.

    August 29, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
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