Species Fact: The Bay Cat

I wish I could give you a lot of facts about bay cats, but only 12 specimens (pelts or taxidermy) have been studied since the 1800s.

The first sighting of a live cat was in 1992, and the first photograph of one was taken in 1998. A few years later came the first camera-trap image. (Sunquist and Sunquist)

Since then, bay cats have occasionally triggered cameras set up randomly in the rainforest or along roads and trails.

But it happens so seldom that one such sighting in 2013 made the news stateside:

Does this mean that bay cats are rare?

Perhaps, but no one knows for sure.

It’s also possible that bay cats may be widespread on Borneo but living in very inaccessible terrain.

Beautiful, but remote. We’ve already seen how hard it is for conservationists to study orangutans — now imagine trying to find a small, shy cat out there!

Scientific name:

Catopuma badia.

You’ll also see Pardofelis badia sometimes, but that’s out of date.

Marbled cats, which sit on the same cat-family-tree branch as bay cats and the Asiatic golden cat (coming next week!), are in the Pardofelis genus.

For a long time, so were their two relatives.

However, in 2011 taxonomists noted certain differences that called for moving bay cats and Asiatic golden cats out of Pardofelis. (Hearn et al., 2016)

They now have their own genus — Catopuma.


Bay cat. (Kitchener et al., 2017)

As with the leopard cat, it’s unclear to me why this cat was chosen as the lineage’s namesake.

Marbled cats are actually the oldest members of the bay cat lineage. (Johnson et al.; Nyaktura and Bininda-Emonds)

(Of note, in their 2018 paper — see the source list at end of post — Li et al. call this the Asiatic golden cat lineage, but that usage doesn’t seem common yet, per a Google Scholar search.)


These are from the Cat Specialist Group website, unless otherwise noted; be aware that these are estimates based on very few observations.

Artist’s impression of the bay cat in 1896. (Image:
Internet Archive Images, no known copyright restrictions)
  • Weight: 7 to 9 pounds.
  • Height at the shoulder: About as tall as a large domestic cat. (Sunquist and Sunquist)
  • Body length: 21 to 26 inches.
  • Tail length: 13 to 16 inches.
  • Coat: “Bay” refers to the reddish brown color phase, but these little cats can also be gray or somewhere in between. Black or almost black bay cats have also been seen. (Patel et al.) The underparts are usually lighter and there are white streaks at the inner corner of each eye. Bay cats often have faint dark stripes on their head and cheeks, too. (Sunquist and Sunquist)
  • Vocals: ??
  • Average litter size: ??
  • Average life span: Unknown; there are no known captive bay cats to study.

Features unique to this cat:

This could be the most mysterious member of the Family Felidae. It’s also one of the few small cats on the Endangered list. (Macdonald et al.)

Where found in the wild:

BhagyaMani via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Three countries own parts of Borneo: Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Sultanate of Brunei. While Brunei is thought to have ideal habitat for bay cats, most sighting are from Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo.

The southern part of Borneo (Indonesia’s South Kalimantan Province) has a somewhat drier climate.

It’s interesting that no bay cats have been seen in South Kalimantan yet.

Closest cat-family relatives:

The caracal group and either the big cat (Johnson et al.) or the ocelot (Nyakatura and Bininda-Emonds) lineage.

How bay cats hunt and live:

Conservationists would really like to know this, but that behavior hasn’t been observed yet.

Most camera images have been taken during the daytime (leopard cats, on the other hand, are often photographed at night), and presumably bay cats go after rodents and birds, as other small cats do.

At one time it was thought that bay cats lived near water, because that was usually where they were seen. However, this could be observer bias, since waterways are major travel routes on Borneo.

There is discussion in the literature about the best way to set up camera traps for bay cats, which might be using the environment differently than clouded leopards and other cats that are photographed more often.

How they reproduce:


Interactions with people:

Conservationists say that there may be illegal trade in bay cats as pets; if so, no one seems to be talking about it.

Some good news, as noted in the video near the top of this post, is that bay cats have been seen in regenerating logged forests. Perhaps, like the leopard cat, they can handle some human disturbance of the environment; the question is, how much?

Fossil relatives:

None are known.


Yes, as Endangered. Conservationists say that this is a precautionary measure. (Hearn et al.) According to some estimates, there might be only a little over 2,000 mature bay cats left. And Borneo is undergoing severe deforestation now, although that has slowed a bit since palm oil prices dropped recently.

So much more needs to be learned about bay cats, both for our own knowledge and also so we can protect them in every possible way.

Featured image: Borneo Nature Foundation

Cat Specialist Group. 2019. Borneo bay cat. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=118 Last accessed July 17, 2019.

Hearn, A.; Brodie, J.; Cheyne, S.; Loken, B.; and others. 2016. Catopuma badia (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T4037A112910221.

Hearn, A. J; Ross, J.; Macdonald, D. W.; Samejima, H.; and others. 2016 (a). Predicted distribution of the bay cat Catopuma badia (Mammalia: Carnivora: Felidae) on Borneo. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology.

Johnson, W. E.; Eizirik, E.; Pecon-Slattery, J.; Murphy, W. J.; and others. 2006. The Late Miocene Radiation of Modern Felidae: A Genetic Assessment. Science, 311:73-77.

Kitchener, A. C.; Breitenmoser-Würsten, C.; Eizirik, E.; Gentry, A.; and others. 2017. A revised taxonomy of the Felidae: The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. https://repository.si.edu/bitstream/handle/10088/32616/A_revised_Felidae_Taxonomy_CatNews.pdf

Li, G.; Figueiro, H. V.; Eizirik, E.; and Murphy, W. J. 2018. Recombination-aware phylogenomics unravels the complex divergence of hybridizing species. bioRxiv, 485904.

Macdonald, D. W.; Loveridge, A. J.; and Nowell, K. 2010b. Dramatis personae: An introduction to the wild felids, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, eds. Macdonald, D. W., and Loveridge, A. J., 3-58. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mohd-Azlan, J., and Sanderson, J. 2007. Geographic distribution and conservation status of the bay cat Catopuma badia, a Bornean endemic. Oryx, 41(3): 394-397.

Nyakatura, K., and Bininda-Emonds, O. R. P. 2012. Updating the evolutionary history of Carnivora (Mammalia): a new species-level supertree complete with divergence time estimates. BMC Biology. 10:12.

O’Brien, S. J., and Johnson, W. E. 2007. The evolution of cats. Scientific American. 297 (1):68-75.

Patel, R. P.; Förster, D. W.; Kitchener, A. C.; Rayan, M. D.; and others.
2016. Two species of Southeast Asian cats in the genus Catopuma with diverging histories: an island endemic forest specialist and a widespread habitat generalist. Royal Society Open Science, 3(10): 160350.

Sicuro, F. L., and Oliveira, L. F. B. 2011. Skull morphology and functionality of extant Felidae (Mammalia: Carnivora): a phylogenetic and evolutionary perspective. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 161(2): 414-462.

Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=IF8nDwAAQBAJ

Werdelin, L.; Yamaguchi, N.; Johnson, W. E.; and O’Brien, S. J.. 2010. Phylogeny and evolution of cats (Felidae), in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, eds. Macdonald, D. W., and Loveridge, A. J., 59-82. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wikipedia. 2019. Bay cat. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bay_cat Last accessed July 17, 2019.

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