Caturday felid: the rare Borneo bay cat

November 28, 2009 • 5:27 am

Although the video is only seven seconds long, it’s important: this is the first film ever taken of the elusive Borneo bay cat, Catopuma badia, the world’s rarest cat. (The film, courtesy of the Global Canopy Programme, is on the link. Click on the lower left, not the upper left.)

The species is endemic to Borneo, and was first collected by Alfred Russel Wallace. The ears are curiously short, and there is nice striping on the head. It’s small (6-8 lb., the size of a house cat), is a denizen of tropic forests, and is rumored to eat monkeys. says this about its status as a species:

It has been always been questioned whether the Bay Cat was a separate sub-species or an island version of the Asian Golden Cat. In 1992 a female Bornean Bay Cat was caught on the Sarawak border near Kalimantan and taken to the Sarawak Museum. The cat later died in captivity but was preserved and detail blood analysis and genetic testing proved this cat was indeed a unique species and therefore a highly endangered one.

I’m not sure how this proves species status. If the Bay Cat were sympatric (i.e., had an overlapping range) with the Asian Golden Cat, and they were fixed for different genetic variants, this would indeed prove a lack of interbreeding, confirming the species’ status as distinct. (I’m using the “biological species concept” here, according to which two species are distinct if they live in the same area in nature but don’t exchange genes.) But it’s not clear whether this is the case with these cats.

From the website:

Rare, elusive, and endangered by habitat loss, the bay cat is one of the world’s least studied wild cats. Several specimens of the cat were collected in the 19th and 20th Century, but a living cat wasn’t even photographed until 1998. Now, researchers in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, have managed to capture the first film of the bay cat (Catopuma badia). Lasting seven seconds, the video (see below) shows the distinctly reddish-brown cat in its habitat.

For three years Andrew Hearn and Jo Ross of the Global Canopy Programme have been surveying Borneo’s wild cats with camera trapping; these include the Sunda clouded leopard, the marbled cat, the flat-headed cat, the leopard cat, and the bay cat, which is the only species of the five that is wholly endemic to Borneo. As well as recording the first video of the bay cat, they also took the first photos of the animal in Sabah.


Fig. 1.  Captive bay cat. Photo by Jim Sanderson.


Fig 2.  In the wild. From the website: “Researchers suspect there are less than 2,500 mature bay cats left in the wild.  The species is endemic to Borneo and rampant deforestation is the main threat. Copyright: Global Canopy Programme. Photo by Jo Ross and Andrew Hearn.”

h/t: Don Strong

4 thoughts on “Caturday felid: the rare Borneo bay cat

  1. Catopuma badia?

    Is this like the indecisiveness behing Camelus dromedarius?

    and is rumored to eat monkeys

    Now, that’s my kinda kitty. (I hate primates.)

    Pity that it looks a lot like a monkey, itself, in that first picture.

  2. I’m not sure how a genetic test of one individual that shows a highly divergent sequence compared to putative conspecifics from another geographic region is NOT evidence for distinct species status.

    Why does the biological species concept include a requirement for the two samples under comparison be from overlapping areas of the Earth’s surface? That describes the mode of speciation (sympatric vs. allopatric), not the end result (“sufficient” genetic divergence).

    What am I missing? Besides the analysis involving only one individual.

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