Photo reveals Africa’s cryptic cat

YALE (US)—An anthropologist has captured photographic images of a rare, cougar-like cat ranging at night in an endangered Ugandan forest.

The images of the African golden cat (Profelis aurata) were taken by a digital infrared camera trap set last year by the anthropologist who was studying primate behavior in the wild.

“It is a very cryptic animal. Almost nothing is known about it,” says Gary Aronsen, research associate in Yale University’s anthropology department, 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 says.

Aronsen showed the images to three experts, who confirmed the identification as the golden cat. The cat is so rare few researchers working in African forests have seen it.

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, says Aronsen, who knows of only one other published photograph of the cat in the wild, taken in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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. 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, explains Aronsen.

“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. Support for this work is provided by the Great Ape Trust of Iowa and the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation.

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