Bay cat is the world’s least known species of cat

It’s remarkable to realise that we still know very little about the bay cat which is only found in Borneo and where the forests – this small wild cat’s habitat – have been and continue to be cut down. It is also referred to as the Borneo bay cat.

Picture of a Borneo Bay cat. Image credit: A.J. Hearn/J. Ross/Wild CRU.
Picture of a Borneo Bay cat. Image credit: A.J. Hearn/J. Ross/Wild CRU.
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In 1883, Daniel Giraud Elliot wrote that nothing was known of the bay cat in the wild and yet today it can be said with some certainty that little is known of the bay cat in the wild.

And James Sanderson with Patrick Watson say that this is not because of a lack of trying. Experts have looked for the cat and failed. They argue that the authorities “insist the bay cat is the rarest on earth”.

But we don’t know enough about it to say whether it is the rarest or not the rarest in the world. But it is certainly very rare.

Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, collected the first bay cat in 1858 but the specimen was in bad condition. It was collected in Kuching, Sarawak and sent to London for examination. They decided another specimen was needed but Wallace never found a second bay cat.

However, in 1864 based upon this single poor specimen which included a partial skull, it was announced that a new small cat species had been discovered.

Deforestation in Borneo.
Borneo deforestation is devastating for the wildlife supported by the forests of this enormous island.

RELATED: Borneo bay cat description infographic

There are other small wild cat species which are little known. In all, it’s fair to say that the small wild cats are far less well-known than the big cats.

Outside of Asia where most of the small wild cats are, the general public don’t really know about these cat species. In Asia the lack conservation of them is acute. They are gradually fading away and becoming extinct because of the usual pressures from human behaviour and human population growth.

Other poorly understood small wild cat species are the flat-headed cat and the marbled cat. Sanderson and Watson (Small Wild Cats) say that they have “not received the attention they deserve.”

In Africa, the African golden cat also falls into the same category. It lives in the forest belt that extends across central Africa which is also being cut down.

We know more about the fishing cat but not enough. Sanderson and Watson say that “the last individual fishing cat to be seen was shot by a hunter in 1932”. They then query whether the fishing cat has gone extinct in Java. They admit that we don’t know.

We don’t know much about the sand cat either. It lives in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. It’s believed that it has disappeared from many areas “within this geographic range, but hard evidence is lacking, and no one has made the sand cat a top priority.”

They believe that there should be a long-term monitoring programme for the Andean cat which is the only member of the Felidae in the Americas considered endangered. In addition, they say that “several populations of the more widespread Pampas cat seemed to have disappeared, but critical information is missing”

You will get the distinct impression that we don’t know enough about the small wild cat species. They have not been well studied and the conservation status of many of them is little known.

If you visit the IUCN Red List website where you will find expert opinion on the conservation status of all flora and fauna, you will see some big gaps in knowledge about these small wild cat species and the most up-to-date information is often from 2014, 10 years ago. We just simply do not have a handle on the conservation of these endangered cats. Reason? A lack of interest and concern.

RELATED: Borneo Bay Cat Range

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