International Society For Endangered Cats

A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World

Featured Feline: Borneo Bay Cat

It wasn’t until the 1990’s that biologists got their first glimpse of a living Borneo Bay cat Pardofelis badia, courtesy of a camera trap photo.

In 1992, an adult female bay cat was brought into the Sarawak Museum, alive but at the point of death, dying soon after. The cat had been caught by native trappers and held in captivity for some months. The appearance of this specimen offered the first opportunity to look at a whole animal.

It had always been questioned whether the Bay Cat was a unique species or merely a smaller island form of the Asiatic Golden Cat. With blood samples taken from the 1992 specimen, genetic testing confirmed that it is indeed a unique species, and therefore a highly endangered one.

In December 1998, BBC Wildlife magazine published the first photograph of a live Borneo Bay Cat. This cat was weighed, measured, photographed, given a physical examination and dewormed before being released back into the forest.

These three events encompass the majority of known information on this species.

Found only on the island of Borneo, the Bay Cat is the true mystery member of the wild cat family. It has never been studied in the wild or held in captivity, and there is no information about its behaviour, ecology or biology.

Based on the lack of both historical and current records, the Borneo Bay Cat appears to occur at low densities compared to other small cats in the same geographical area. Habitat loss due to commercial logging and oil palm plantations is the major threat to all cat species on the island.

Oil palm plantations are likely to expand in the future as a result of the push for biofuels. Forest cover on the island of Borneo, if current deforestation rates continue, is projected to decline to less than one-third by 2020. Wildlife traders are aware of the species’ rarity, and Bay Cats have been captured illegally for the skin and pet markets.

Bornean Bay cat. Photo copyright Andrew Hearn & Joanna Ross

A groundbreaking study by Jo Ross and Andrew Hearn with the Bornean Clouded Leopard Program is uncovering some of the first data on Borneo’s five wild cat species, including the Bay Cat. They have also taken the first camera trap photographs of a wild Bay Cat in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

Three years of fieldwork have disclosed the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations as one of the greatest threats to the wild cats on the island. Researchers found that while Borneo’s wild cats were present in both primary and recently logged forest, only the Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis is found in palm oil plantations. For the other four cat species, palm oil plantations appear to be off-limits, even for migration purposes.

The Borneo Bay Cat is listed as Endangered, and a decline of more 20% in their population is projected over the next 12 years.

It is fully protected by national legislation across most of its range. Hunting and trade are prohibited in Indonesia and Malaysia, and its presence has been confirmed in two National Parks and a Conservation Area on the island.

**The Bornean Clouded Leopard Program blog is updated regularly with camera trap photos of some of the world’s rarest wild cats – bay cat, marbled cat, flat-headed cat, Sunda clouded leopard, and the more common leopard cat.

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