Category Archives: African golden cat

A selection of tracks

A small selection of tracks from the mud

A small selection of tracks from the mud

Daily rains make spotting wildlife harder. Vegetation covers everything and with all the mud it is difficult to cover a lot of ground. One thing the mud does bring us though is very clear tracks! It is quite hard to  identify species reliably but they give us a very good indication of what might be out there.

More Evidence Of An African Golden Cat In Shimoni Forest!

Ok people – this is getting really exciting now. 

As most of you may have read a few weeks back, there was an incredible and unbelievable sighting during a night walk in Shimoni east forest.  The GVI team were on an unofficial night walk, simply wandering up the road to see if they could spot some of the nocturnal creatures such as a suni, or bushbaby.  However, they stumbled across something a little bit more special (no disrespect to suni’s or bushbabies).  What they saw was a medium sized cat that had a head-body length of about 1 metre, a stocky build and leopard-like pattern and colouration.  The closest animal that looks anything like it in any of the books or on the internet, is the African golden cat! 

African golden cats are very rare, and very little is known about them.  Their population and distribution is highly questionable, and their range is unknown.  They have been sighted in Western Kenya, and in Arobuke Sokoke forest.  In the two years I’ve been here, I have heard several members of the community tell stories of possible leopard sightings in and around Shimoni, which leads us to believe that these (fingers crossed there is more than one) golden cats are what has actually been seen in the past. 

Ever since our sighting, we have been on the look-out for any other signs of the cat’s presence.  We are currently looking into ways of surveying for them, but the excitement has been hard to shift.  Today, we think we may have more evidence…

The tracks of a medium-sized cat!

The tracks of a medium-sized cat!

It has been raining heavily for the last two weeks here in Shimoni, with the sun finally showing itself the day before yesterday.  And just in time it seems.  We were walking along the road that leads into the forest, and we saw two sets of cat prints – one that was simply too big for your average domestic cat or genet.  The was a second set of much smaller prints, that follow very closely with the larger ones, never straying more than a metre or two away.  The prints lead from the forest towards the village, and the all the way back as well.  We followed the prints along the road for at least 0.5km, finding them in every patch of mud that was left over from the rains. 

The section of road with the best remaining tracks

The section of road with the best remaining tracks

One of the smaller prints

One of the smaller prints

Unable to contain our excitement, we went back to base and collected measuring tape, a camera and notepads.  We also made up a mixture of flour and water in an attempt to create a copy of the print.  The Caracal (which is a very close relative) has a stride of approximately 60 – 80cm.  We measured the stride of the front left and the front right which came out at 52cm and 51.5cm respectively.  It is slightly smaller than the average for a caracal, but when you consider this could possibly be a female with a cub, and that they were walking in slippery mud, it is still a respectable stride!

Taking measurements

Taking measurements

This shows the progression of the prints.  Each pair that remained undamaged are circled

This shows the progression of the prints. Each pair that remained undamaged are circled

 

The width of the track (the widest point of the track) was 11cm, and the straddle of the track (the distance between the inner sides of both left and right paws) was 4.1cm.  The breadth of the paw was 5.5cm and its length was 5cm.  Unfortunately we couldn’t get the measurements of the smaller set of tracks, as they were fainter and the road had been trampled throughout the day.  We did get the paw dimensions, with the breadth being 3.1cm and the length being 3.2cm.

A very happy group of cat lovers!

A very happy group of cat lovers!

Despite our high hopes, excitement and our wildest dreams, we are still being the sensible researchers we like to think we are.  None of this is concrete evidence of an African golden cat…for that I think we need a photograph.  However, judging by the relative size of the print compared to a domestic cat (courtesy of Snotty the cat), it is simply too big.  It’s more than double the size, and trust me, Snotty is not a small cat!  I also believe it is too big for that of a genet, and it did not have evidence of claws, which rules out civets and mongooses.  There is nothing else in Shimoni forest (that GVI have heard of in 4 years of research) that it could be.  And just think….it might have a baby with it.  We are going on a night walk tonight – no surprises there.  We’ll keep you updated!

Dare we hope? Is there a mother with a cub in Shimoni forest?

Dare we hope? Is there a mother with a cub in Shimoni forest?

Possible Golden Cat Sighted In Shimoni!

At the end of last week, Aisling, one of the forest research staff took a group of volunteers into the forest for a dusk / night walk which are great for sighting nocturnal species.  This time however, the group had a rather more exciting time.  Aisling tells all below…

  Our walk had started successfully with a sighting of three Small Eared Galagos (bushbabies), feeding in a tall tree. A few minutes later, we saw a further two Galagos rustling in the upper canopy. We had turned to walk back to the village when one of the volunteers noticed the glint of eyes reflecting in her torch light. I used the larger spotlight I was carrying to light the area where the eyes had been seen, expecting to see a suni which is a small, nocturnal antelope. To our absolute amazement it was not the light brown colouration of a suni we saw but instead a big cat! Approximately ten metres away in sparse undergrowth, we watched the cat, slowly stride deeper into the undergrowth and turn its head to look at us. With the brightness of the spotlight, the undergrowth being sparse and the cat being within close range, we were able to clearly see the whole body.    

The photo of the African Golden Cat that looks identical to what the group saw (photo courtesy of Terry Whittaker www.flpa-images.co.uk)

The photo of the African Golden Cat that looks identical to what the group saw (photo courtesy of Terry Whittaker www.flpa-images.co.uk)

 The cat had a HB (head body) measurement of approximately 1m. It was of a sturdy build, with strong legs and torso. The tail was not particularly long and had a dark colouration. The markings on the cat were very distinct, with large dark rosettes on a light background. The cat seemed unaffected by our presence, showing no change in behaviour or signs of agitation.

  Once were returned to the house, we were all excited to identify the cat. The Serval, Caracal and Genet were species that have been seen in Shimoni East Forest previously but they did not match with what we had just seen. On seeing a picture of an African Golden Cat, we all agreed that it looked like the cat we had seen. On reading further about the Golden Cat behaviour and habitat, it further fitted the bill. Living in lowland forest zones also mangrove areas, feeding on duiker and monkeys and being most active at dusk and during the night. However, very little is known about population and distribution of the African Golden Cat and any previous research shows populations to only be in Western Kenya. We are now planning to take regular night walks, to identify tracks and footprints and hopefully prove that we have found a Golden Cat in Shimoni forest!!

Aisling Connolly