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Rare African golden cat caught in camera trap

Yale University anthropologist Gary P. Aronsen was studying primate behavior in Uganda last year when an infrared camera trap he set captured nighttime images of a cat so rare few researchers working in African forests have seen it.

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Photo courtesy G. P. Aronsen, Department of Anthropology, Yale University

The three images made by the camera trap of the African golden cat (Profelis aurata), a cougar-like feline about twice the size of a domestic cat, were released by Yale this week.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the African golden cat as Near Threatened, “as it seems reasonable to believe that the species could have declined on the order of 20 percent over the course of the last 15 years across its range, due mainly to the impact of habitat loss, hunting and loss of prey base.”

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Photo courtesy G. P. Aronsen, Department of Anthropology, Yale University

Although seldom seen or photographed, skins of the golden cat are more frequently encountered in museums, and among hunters and bushmeat markets, according to IUCN. The golden cat preys occasionally on tree-living primates, but its diet consists mainly of rodents and squirrels, according to analysis of its scat, which is about the only research that has been done about the feline.

Cryptic Animal

“It is a very cryptic animal. Almost nothing is known about it,” said Aronsen, research associate in the Department of Anthropology, who described the photographs in the online edition of the African Journal of Ecology.

“The camera traps often capture images of elephants, chimpanzees, and small antelopes, so seeing this cat was a very welcome surprise,” Aronsen added.

Aronsen showed the images to three experts, who confirmed the identification as the golden cat, Yale said in a statement.

A colleague of Aronsen’s has worked for years in Kibale National Park, Uganda where the photos were taken, and has seen the animal only once, Aronsen said.

The researcher knows of only one other published photograph of the cat in the wild, taken in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Photo courtesy G. P. Aronsen, Department of Anthropology, Yale University

The cat looks much like a mountain lion of the American West and is much smaller than the lions and leopards that once roamed the park, Aronsen said. “While these larger cats have been eradicated by human encroachment in the park, the golden cat’s smaller size may have helped it survive in Uganda’s shrinking forests.

“Hopefully, the presence of this predator is a good sign of the forest’s health–even though it’s a smaller cat, the forest has to have enough resources to sustain it.”

“Hopefully, the presence of this predator is a good sign of the forest’s health–even though it’s a smaller cat, the forest has to have enough resources to sustain it.”

Aronsen is a member of a Yale research team working at Mainaro, in Uganda’s Kibale National Park, including David P. Watts, professor of anthropology, and Simone Teelen, research affiliate. Support for this work is provided by the Great Ape Trust of Iowa and the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation.

Comments

  1. idontknow
    idontknoow
    November 15, 2012, 11:00 am

    teehee