Although known to science for 138 years, almost nothing is actually known about the bay cat (Pardofelis badia). This reddish-brown wild feline, endemic to the island of Borneo, has entirely eluded researchers and conservationists. The first photo of the cat wasn’t taken until 1998 and the first video was shot just two years ago, but basic information remains lacking. The bay cat is a close relative of the Asian Golden Cat (Pardofelis temminckii), which has a large range over southern China, north-east India, mainland South-east Asia and Sumatra. The bay cat is smaller than the Asian golden cat but otherwise looks similar. No credible case has been advanced as to why bay cat would be so much rarer than its relative, but it seems clear that this is a natural condition.
Fortunately a new camera trap study in the Kelabit Highlands of the Malaysian state of Sarawak has added to the little knowledge by photographing a bay cat at never before seen elevations. “We’ve never known conclusively whether the bay cat occurred at this high an elevation” said Jedediah Brodie, a Fulbright Research Scholar. “Our record is an important contribution to existing knowledge of this unique and elusive species, and to this amazing ecosystem”.
Thought to be naturally rare, the bay cat is also imperiled by deforestation due to logging and palm oil plantations on the island of Borneo, though the cat has been photographed in previously logged forests, but not plantations. Such rarity however suggests that huge areas under conservation management will be needed to conserve the species: and in the context of rapid forest conversion across Borneo, there is little cause for optimism with this species. This is exactly why the bay cat is one of the many species that features in the EAZA IUCN/SSC Southeast Asia Campaign. The bay cat is not alone in its plight. Four of Borneo’s five wild cats are classified by the IUCN as threatened with extinction due to continued deforestation, but the bay cat is only one of those found no-where else.
The conservationists warn that although the cat was photographed in Pulong Tau National Park, the park is only protected on paper. “This is a ‘paper park’ for sure, currently with no budget, no infrastructure, and no staff, including no park rangers” explains Brodie. “Given that we have recorded such a rich mammal fauna, we urgently need to see that it receives the additional scientific attention and protection it deserves.”