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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Mysterious Bay Cat

Exciting photos from CLP-supported research in Borneo reveal a glimpse of one of the world's least understood felids, the Borneo bay cat (Catopuma badia). Andy Hearn and Joanna Ross have been fortunate enough to obtain a half dozen photos of bay cats representing at least three individuals in their study site in the Danum Valley. This photo documentation is critical as the bay cat is one of the world's least understood felids. Until recently, the only images of the bay cat in literature were of dessicated, preserved specimens or crude drawings from long ago (likely based on skins or mounts). These representations did nothing to capture the athletic grace and beauty of this species that can be seen in the recent photos.

Bay cats occur in two color phases: the more common reddish and gray. They resemble the Asian golden cat with which they share their genus, Catopuma. Golden cats are absent on Borneo and bay cats are found nowhere else, suggesting the bay cat may have evolved from the golden cat in isolation in Borneo over the past 10,000-15,000 years that Borneo has been separate from its neighboring island of Sumatra. Genetic analysis indicates that the two species are closely related.

We anticipate that recent data on bay cat sightings will be compiled as a result of the workshop we are coordinating in Thailand in January. This will be an important first step toward identifying other research and conservation priorities for this mysterious cat.

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