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. Wover

    Okay, I know it's rare and would probably try to eat my face off, but it is sooo CUUUTE!!! 😀

    August 29, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. kim

    It interesting that they where able to track down this elusive creature but few here will appreciate it since most are not very brite or intelligent there simply put retarded if it not about them they do not care and only have rude ignorant things to say. Just Rude even if not interested you do not have to read the article nor comment on it but most are just rude. Oh well.

    August 29, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. j

    kill it...

    August 29, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. sum1common

    I think I saw a sticker that said something like, Made In China, oh well.

    August 29, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ron

    This female appears to be in the final stages of gestation.

    August 29, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      You get that from a grainy low resolution snapshot? What are you getting at?
      Is this some kind of wierd preversion you have about pregnant cats or something?

      August 29, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ron

      I'm a comparative biologist. There are movements in the hips consistent with labor, signs of irregular movement in the diaphragm area (possibly movement from one or two kits) and indications of possible pending lactation.

      August 29, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      One can only hope. More kittens to hopefully survive and thrive.

      August 29, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ladylike

    Such a beautiful cat – love the markings.

    August 29, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. B Dubs

    Is it bigoted to not want sloppy seconds from some other guy? Like in the form of a salty cream pie? Just curious.. I don't wanna offend any racially sensitive people. I don't care what color the tube steak is I'm not eating the drippings if you know what I mean?..

    August 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mark

    That is a beautiful cat. Some of the people leaving nasty remarks are not so beautiful.

    August 29, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. vrim

    Okay, you've shown the elusive cat to the world; now let it be. No expeditions to see more of how it lives. Don't popularize it out of existence. The species is there, it's happy and doesn't need anything from us.

    August 29, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Sorry, you're wrong. It needs one thing from us.
      To leave it alone.
      Fortunately, it's shy enough that it avoids humans.

      August 29, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. BeyotchKnolz

    Is it possible that this cat is in one of the evolutionary stages between leopard and housecat?

    August 29, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • UmmDuh

      Yea, and my goldfish is in a stage between whale and goldfish. My dog has gills as we live near water and over time he has decided to evolve into a water breathing dog.

      August 29, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lurker

      It reminded me a lot of my housecats....golden cats are clearly not far removed from their domestic cousins!

      August 29, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. michiganmoon

    I wonder how many years it will take of not finding Bigfoot for the legend to die.

    August 29, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. finkster

    Bull crap....that my pet kitty and I want him back.

    August 29, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Californian

    The cat looks a bit like a small puma (cougar), which is also said to be crepuscular in it's habits but which has become active during the day where I live. Where pressures exist on an animal's territory or access to food, animals will change their patterns to adapt. It may well be that the golden cat has begun hunting during the day because it needed to.

    August 29, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. solo traveler

    Every single one of these comments so far clearly shows that the trolls have driven away the legitimate contributors, not just here but on every single comment section on the CNN website. What is the point of free expression if we do nothing but abuse the right, waste it, and make a mockery of it? CNN has created a tool for tools alone, yet one that is built into every article they present, dumbing down all topics, as well as itself and its writers, to a level befitting of gradeschool delinquency.

    August 29, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Californian

      "every single one" except yours, eh? You want to see a tool? Look in the mirror, creep.

      August 29, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. abby

    beautiful animal....

    August 29, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
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