This is an excellent camera trap photograph of a rare small wild cat, the Borneo bay cat (‘bay cat’). Even today, specialists with great knowledge of the small while cat species don’t know enough about this cat but there is one thing which is known and that is their habitat is being destroyed on the island of Borneo due to a massive amount of deforestation on that huge island, the third largest in the world.
The overriding story about this small, precious and rare wild cat species is that they have become endangered perhaps critically endangered because their forest home is being relentlessly cut down to allow conversion to oil palm plantations. The wood from the forest is probably used to make toilet paper! Or something equally banal. This is virgin forest being chopped down with the primary purpose of creating palm oil plantations and I guess a secondary purpose is to release wood.
And the experts say that oil palm plantations will expand into the future because there is a push for biofuels. On the current rate of deforestation, there will be a reduction in forest cover on the island from 50% to less than 33%. That assessment by the way was made in 2005 so I expect that there has been a huge amount of deforestation since that time. As I see it, the end game will be the almost complete destruction of forest on Borneo over the next 30 years. They may belatedly create a reserve or two to save some of the animals dependent on the forest.
Another threat to the bay cat is the irresponsible use of snares and there is also the ever-present threat of poaching. Wildlife traders and traffickers are aware of this cat’s rarity which encourages more trading both for the pet market and their skins.
It is ironic and perverse that when humankind persecutes a wild cat to the point where their numbers are reduced significantly which endangers their survival in the wild, they become more precious and important to people who trade in these animals which pushes up the price which in turn encourages more poaching and persecution. It is a downward spiral until the animal concerned is extinct in the wild.
In 2012, Fiona Sunquist stated that the “bay cat is the world’s least known felid”. At the time there are only 12 specimens which had been examined by the experts. This cat is about the size of a large domestic cat with a long tail. It resembles the Asiatic golden cat.
You will see this cat in two colours described as “colour phases”. The grey phase is less common than the mahogany red colour phase. The cat in the photograph on this page appears distinctly to be of the mahogany red colour phase.
The coat is pale on the underparts with some faint spots on the belly and limbs. The mahogany red cats have blackish grey colour fur on their back. The ears are short and rounded. At least half of the tail is white underneath.
It is believed that the bay cat is closely related to the Asiatic golden cat. It is also believed that the bay cat and golden cat were separated during evolution from a common ancestor between 4.9 and 5.3 million years ago. The bay cat is a unique species which makes it all the more precious and their conservation all the more important, but their protection has been, it appears to me, almost entirely ignored by the governments of the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, Indonesian Kalimantan and the tiny nation of Brunei.
P.S. One of the challenges of writing about this cat species is how to spell its name! There are three ways to do it: Borneo Bay Cat, Borneo Bay cat or Borneo bay cat. I have chosen the third way because this cat species is also known as the “bay cat” and only Borneo is a place name and therefore a proper noun which should be capitalised. The word “bay” should not be capitalised, and neither should the word “cat”. That’s my reasoning and if you disagree with me then please leave a comment. Oh, and there is no such place as ‘Borneo Bay’.