Extinction of Borneo bay cat

May 26, 2023, 2:10 p.m.

Borneo Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia). One of the world’s least-known and most endangered wild cats, the bay cat. The Bay Cat is found only on the island of Borneo.

The bay cat is only found in Borneo and is an endangered species with less than 1100 mature animals left in the world. Even in pristine habitat, these cats seem to occur at low densities, making them one of the most elusive cats in the world. It is so little studied that virtually nothing is known about its ecology.

The carnivore bay cat species primarily prey on rodents, monkeys, birds, and the flesh of dead animals. These cats can easily be found in swamp forests, hill forests. Also, a few sightings were observed in the dense tropical forest as well.

The chestnut-colored cat, also called the Bornean cat, is found only in Borneo and is one of the least known wild cats in the world.

Naturalists didn’t have a chance to study a live one until a bay cat was captured in 1992, and the cat remains so difficult to find that researchers know very little about how this secretive cat actually lives. The fact that the cat is so difficult to find is all the more frustrating because conservationists list the felid as endangered. The deforestation of Borneo may wipe out the bay cat before scientists get a chance to find out more about it.

A wild cat endemic and exclusive to the island of Borneo, the Borneo Bay Cat is a bright chestnut colour with an elongated tail and short, rounded head and ears. About the size of a large house cat, it has a wide range of habitat but is more-or-less forest dependent.

The bay cat only occurs on the island of Borneo (which comprises three countries, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia). Around the size of a large domestic cat, the bay cat has two distinct color phases, rich, rusty-red and grey with red undertones.

The Borneo Bay Cat is secretive and nocturnal, which leads to a scarcity of sightings and a poorly understood distribution. Next to nothing is known about its feeding, ecology, or reproductive behaviour.

It comes in two forms, a rich rusty-red to mahogany-red, and a grey form with variable red undertones especially along the transition from the body colour to the paler underparts.

We urgently need to see that it receives the additional scientific attention and protection it deserves.

Despite the elevation and remoteness of Borneo’s Kelabit Highlands, the biodiversity of this region remains threatened by both legal and illegal logging for palm oil plantations and other developments, and Pulong Tau National Park is a region that is really only protected ‘on paper’.

The threats to the Borneo bay cat are not well known. Habitat loss, mainly due to deforestation for commercial logging and especially conversion of forest to oil palm or other agricultural plantations, seems to be the most urgent threat. The global demand for resources, like palm oil and natural rubber, is still increasing, putting ever more pressure on the remaining forests. Moreover, construction dams for hydroelectric power also leads to habitat loss.

More surveys are needed to understand the distribution and ecological needs of Borneo’s wildlife if we are to save species on the brink of extinction.

The Borneo bay cat population is estimated at only 1,100 mature individuals. The most pressing conservation issue for the bay cat is the loss of habitat due to deforestation. Other threats include residential and commercial development, hunting, trapping, logging, agriculture and livestock framing and ranching.

An additional and potentially important threat is that wildlife traders are aware of the rarity of the Borneo bay cat which cause it to be targeted specifically and captured illegally for its skin and for the pet markets. There are increasing evidences for the capture and export of Borneo Bay cats for the pet market. Impacts of hunting on the species could be considerably. Borneo bay cats are also vulnerable to untargeted snaring. The species' limited distribution renders it very vulnerable.

The lack of knowledge about the Borneo bay cat’s ecology, biology, population status and principal threats are a problem and hinder its conservation efforts.

As a representative of the highest animal, the cat is a key element of the island's ecosystem and performs the function of prey population control.

The species continues to be threatened by habitat loss and hunting. Main threats: habitat loss (deforestation from commercial logging, palm oil plantations and human settlement) and illegal wildlife trade (captured for their skin and pet markets).

What do you think should be done today to ensure the survival of a unique felid species?

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