Guest Video: Geoffroy’s Cat

No, Geoff didn’t lose his moggie while visiting South America. The history (and mystery) behind the formal name for this little member of the ocelot lineage is given below the video.

See the Cat Specialist Group for red-list status and more information about Geoffroy cats.

In 1844, French naturalists Alicide d’Orbigny and Paul Gervais decided to name a small spotted South American cat after one of two famous zoologists at the time who were called “Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire” (that’s the last name).

The question is, which one?

A few decades before Darwin rocked the world, Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire’s was pilloried in the press for his views on the nature of species. (Image: Wikimedia)

  • Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, who gave the jaguarundi its scientific moniker in 1803?
  • His son Isidore, who formally described Asia’s rusty-spotted cat and flat-headed cat in 1831?

Most online sources that I checked say it was the father that d’Orbigny and Gervais had in mind, but they don’t cite any authoritative source.

It probably was Etienne, though:

  • He was an expert in Latin American small cats
  • He had the academic standing to disagree publicly with Georges Cuvier, one of the greatest Western scientists ever (Cuvier — clearly the editor’s favorite — is shown with human features in the background of the cartoon above)
  • Last but definitely not least, Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire died in 1844, making this an appropriate time to honor him.

Throughout it all, the newly named Leopardus geoffroyii went about its business in southern South America, not at all impressed with its new status as part of humanity’s scientific world view.

Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock

Featured image: mistvan via Wikimedia; see link for CC BY-SA license information.

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