Bonus Felid: Wallace and the Bornean Bay Cat

February 24, 2013 • 9:37 am

by Greg Mayer

As part of our observations of the Alfred Russel Wallace Centenary, we have an extra felid this weekend, the Bornean Bay Cat (Catopuma [or Pardofelis] badia). It’s one the world’s rarest species of cat (see the IUCN Red List), endemic to the island of Borneo, and known (as of 2007) from only 15 localities and 10 specimens (some of the localities are sight records or photos), mostly in the center and north of the island.

Illustration of Felis badia from Gray's original description (1874).
Illustration of Felis badia from Gray’s original description (1874).

Jerry has noted them here at WEIT before (here and here). Wallace’s connection to the species is that he collected the holotype specimen in Sarawak, and sent it to the British Museum in 1856, where it was received by J.E. Gray (who was also a scientific acquaintance of Darwin). Gray hoped to study further specimens before describing it, but having received none, he finally described it in 1874 (from the wonderful Wallace Online).

To my knowledge, Wallace made only one published statement about the Bay Cat. In the second edition of Island Life (1892), he analyzed the mammalian fauna of Borneo and concluded that its fauna must have been derived by a land connection:

Nearly a hundred and forty species of mammalia have been discovered in Borneo, and of these more than three-fourths are identical with those of the surrounding countries, and more than one half with those of the continent. Among these are two lemurs, nine civets, five cats, five deer, the tapir, the elephant, the rhinoceros, and many squirrels, an assemblage which could certainly only have reached the country by land.

He goes on to list Felis badia among the relatively few mammal species peculiar to Borneo. He infers, however, that these endemic forms do not indicate a long separation of Borneo from the Asian mainland:

These peculiar forms do not, however, imply that the separation of the island from the continent is of very ancient date, for the country is so vast and so much of the once connecting land is covered with water, that the amount of speciality is hardly, if at all, greater than occurs in many continental areas of equal extent and remoteness. This will be more evident if we consider that Borneo is as large as the Indo-Chinese Peninsula, or as the Indian Peninsula south of Bombay, and if either of these countries were separated from the continent by the submergence of the whole area north of them as far as the Himalayas, they would be found to contain quite as many peculiar genera and species as Borneo actually does now.

Wallace’s zoogeographical conclusions regarding Borneo have been abundantly confirmed by subsequent discoveries, most especially in geology. It is now known that the lowering of sea level by the sequestration of water in glaciers during the most recent glaciation amounted to a worldwide lowering of about 120 m in sea level, an amount quite sufficient to drain the broad yet shallow Sunda Shelf, thus firmly uniting Borneo to the Asian mainland. According to the exquisite paleogeographic reconstructions of Harold Voris of the Field Museum and colleagues, the rising postglacial waters did not sever Borneo’s connection to the main till between 10,550 and 10,210 years ago.

The Sunda Shelf with the sea level at -30 m, 10,210 years ago (from Sathiamurthy and Voris, 2006).
The Sunda Shelf with the sea level at -30 m, 10,210 years ago; Borneo has just barely detached from the Malayo-Sumatran peninsula (from Sathiamurthy and Voris, 2006).

JAC addendum: I’ve embedded a video (nb: cheesy music) below; it has photos of the cat and some very rare video footage:


Azlan, M.J. and J. Sanderson. 2007. Geographic distribution and conservation status of the bay cat Catopuma badia, a Bornean endemic. Oryx 41:394-397. (pdf)

Gray, J.E. 1874. Description of a new Species of Cat (Felis badia) from Borneo. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1874:322-323. (pdf)

Kitchener, A.C, S. Yasuma, M. Andau, and P. Quillen. 2004. Three bay cats (Catopuma badia) from Borneo Mammalian Biology  69:349-353.  (pdf)

Sathiamurthy, E. and Voris, H. K. 2006. Maps of Holocene sea level transgression and submerged lakes on the Sunda Shelf. The Natural History Journal of Chulalongkorn University. Supplement 2:1-43.(pdf)

Wallace, A. R. 1892. Island Life. Second and revised edition. London: Macmillan and Co. (text and pdf)

5 thoughts on “Bonus Felid: Wallace and the Bornean Bay Cat

  1. as hinted in the closing credits, ATWA, manson direct, and one world order are all more or less offshoots of the so called manson family. not that i disagree with their ecological philosophy, to the extent with which i have acquainted myself with it. nice footage of the cat.

    1. Had no idea what ATWA was. If you prefer to not patronize a Manson affiliated site, you can also see the video here (Jerry’s first ‘here’ link in the original post).


  2. The Darwin-Wallace story–great example of scientists valuing the quest for knowledge over ego.

    Always great to see Wallace get his due; and what a cool cat! (The actual one, that is. But who knows? Maybe Alfred, too…)

  3. Have I mentioned I’m more of a dog person? Does this mean I’m banned from this site? I present this in mitigation:

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