A camera trap has caught the first ever record of an African Golden Cat in Tanzania. This species, about two times the size of a domestic cat, is the only truly forest-dependent cat in Africa and is already classed as vulnerable - one step away from being endangered.
This finding took place in Minziro Nature Reserve, established in 2016 by the Tanzania Forest Service with the support of a whole team of partners including UNEP-WCMC Chief Scientist, Neil Burgess. The Reserve’s rainforest habitat is quite rare in East Africa as it represents an eastern ‘outlier’ of a forest habitat type otherwise found in central and western African, and as such it holds quite a unique combination of species for Tanzania. These include the tree pangolin and giant pangolin, for example, along with an impressive array of primates, all species which are rarely found elsewhere in this country.
An international team of researchers, coordinated by Italy’s MUSE – Trento Science Museum with the University of Florence and Tanzania’s College of African Wildlife Management, and implemented in close coordination with the Tanzania Forest Service, set out to conduct an assessment of the rainforest’s wildlife and placed 65 camera traps around over 100 km2 in the Reserve. Over the next few months these camera traps spotted several of these African Golden Cats in different places around the Reserve, displaying their whole range of colouration from intense orange to dark black.
Francesco Rovero, researcher at the Department of Biology at the University of Florence and collaborator with MUSE, said: "We are still finishing up our data analyses (there were almost 6,000 images depicting more than 25 species of mammals), but this one finding alone highlights how unique Minziro Nature Reserve is.”
“We hope it will serve to trigger further research and, most critically, greater protection of the Nature Reserve, which is newly established. Our assessment found that the forest is heavily threatened by hunting, livestock grazing and timber harvesting. The imminent construction of a pipeline encroaching the Western edge of the reserve potentially adds to these threats, but mitigation strategies are being planned.”
Neil Burgess added: “It’s incredible to see that this Reserve, so newly designated, is already providing a home to a species never before seen in Tanzania. We may only be skimming the surface of what species view this Reserve as a critical refuge.
“The Reserve is actually in one of the focus areas for UNEP-WCMC’s joint Development Corridors Partnership, a collaboration between Tanzania, Kenya, China and the UK to make sure that the development of corridors through East Africa is based on the best evidence, and the most effective use of planning tools and procedures. Discoveries such as this are critical in helping decision makers understand the full impact and consequences of their decisions, and can ultimately help protect wildlife and the nature that we all depend upon.”
Further camera trap images, both of the African Golden Cat and a range of other animals, are available on Dropbox.
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The assessment is part of a wider international cooperation programme called “East Africa Livelihood Improvement Programme” co-financed by the Province of Trento (International Development Service) and other partners of the European sub-region called “Euregio”, with activities in Minziro coordinated by the Italian NGO for international cooperation “ACAV”.