Bay Cat or Bornean Red Cat - Catopuma badia

Photo © Art Wolfe:

Weight: 5 pounds
Head/Body: 20 inches
Tail: 15 inches

Borneo Bay cat, a little-known species endemic to the island of Borneo, inhabits dense primary forests and areas of rocky limestone. Most sightings and collections have occurred in the highlands. Deforestation may threaten this rare species, although there is no direct evidence. Protected by law throughout its range, a survey of the status, distribution and ecology of the species is required.

The bay cat is about the size of a large domestic cat with an extra long tail, and has two color phases. The coat can be mahogany red or blackish gray on the back and flanks, but it is usually paler on the underparts, with some faint spots on the belly and limbs. A pale flash marks the inside of each eye, and there may be faint dark stripes on the top of the head and the cheeks. The first half of the tail is conspicuously white underneath.

As its name suggests, the cat is confined to the island of Borneo. Found in the dense tropical forests up to an altitude of 900 meters (with one unconfirmed sighting at 1,800m), it has been observed in rocky limestone outcrops and recently in logged tropical lowland rainforest. The latest individual to be caught was on the Sarawak/Indonesian border.

Little is known of the habitat and ecology of C. badia. Eric Meijaard’s (1997) review of sightings found the cat in several forest types, including hill forests, lowland forests and swamp forests. Prey species of this felid include small mammals, birds, insects and reptiles, and it has been observed feeding on carrion. Monkeys are also an important part of the diet.

Borneo is suffering from appalling deforestation, so the habitat of the bay cat is being rapidly destroyed. Insufficient information is available to estimate the status of the populations of this species and how they react to human disturbance. Bay cats are on CITES: Appendix II and are listed by the IUCN as Vulnerable. There is estimated to be around only 50 individuals left. The main threat to bay cats is thought to be loss of habitat due to deforestation.

Bay cats are the mystery cat of the lesser felid family. No living cats have been seen by biologists, and no real facts are known about their habits, behavior, ecology or reproductive biology. Most of the biological information available on this species has been obtained from five skins and two skulls in natural history museums in Europe.

In 1992 an adult female bay cat was brought into the Sarawak Museum alive, but died soon after. The cat had apparently been caught by native trappers and held in captivity for some months. The appearance of this specimen offered the first opportunity to look at a whole animal.