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African golden cat (Caracal aurata)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 13255598

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 13255598) - African golden cat - Awarded $15,000 on February 10, 2014

Across its range, the African golden cat (Caracal aurata) is threatened by human activity most notably poaching, habitat destruction and human-wildlife conflict. At Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (hereafter "Bwindi"), neither data on population estimates and ecology exist, nor an assessment of the impacts of human-wildlife conflict and poaching on the golden cat has been undertaken. This research project was the first to investigate; the golden cat-human conflict, factors influencing the local attitudes towards the conservation of golden cats, and the impact of poaching on the abundance and ecology (habitat use and diel activity) of the golden cat at Bwindi. To achieve this goal, I combined field methods; questionnaire surveys, systematic camera-trap surveys, and opportunistically collected data on poaching. I then analyzed these data using a combination of robust statistical tools; logistic regression models, single-season N-Mixture abundance models, resource selection functions and circular statistics.

            I recorded all the three known color morphs of the African golden cat; the melanistic, golden and grey morphs. The abundance estimates of the golden cats (0.47 ± 0.17 SE golden cats per camera trap site) suggest that golden cats may occur at relatively high densities at Bwindi. However, the abundance, habitat use and diel activity patterns of the golden cat at Bwindi were all negatively associated with human activity. The abundance of the golden cat was ~50% less in areas with poaching than in areas without poaching. Golden cats also avoided areas where human activity was highest, and golden cats were less active during the time of the day when humans were most active. The negative relationships between golden cat abundance and ecology, and poaching is surprising because neither at Bwindi nor elsewhere in Uganda are carnivores (including golden cats) hunted for bushmeat, but rather antelopes and bushpigs which are hunted non-selectively using snares.

            The golden cat-human conflict was negligible, with the golden cat responsible for < 10% of the total predator depredations, and < 5% of the respondents reported losing livestock or poultry to the golden cat in the 12 months preceding this study. Albeit the negligible level of conflict with humans, data from questionnaire interviews showed that local communities had poor attitudes towards the conservation of the golden cat, attributed to perceived depredation risk posed by golden cats to livestock and poultry. These findings combined with the result that the attitudes towards golden cat conservation were most influenced by the level of education suggests a misconception-a general prejudice that carnivores in human-dominated landscapes pose a major depredation threat to livestock and poultry.

            The poor attitudes towards the conservation of the golden cats at Bwindi may be improved through creating awareness and sensitizing local communities about golden cats. The high abundance of golden cats at Bwindi- a well-protected national park from destructive human activities suggests that national parks may be strongholds for golden cat conservation, but golden cats may not be thriving in areas with lesser protection or with lower conservation status such as forest reserves where human activity particularly poaching is most prevalent. Conservation efforts to mitigate human impacts on the golden cat should, therefore, extend beyond national parks to forest reserves where golden cats are likely to be most threatened by poaching. Further, it is plausible that the low abundance and habitat use of golden cats in areas with poaching at Bwindi is due to their unintended death (as bycatch) in snares in what may be considered "collateral damage" due to poaching. Assessing the threat snare poaching bycatch poses on golden cats, and engaging local stakeholders to implement interventions to mitigate snare poaching bycatch of golden cats is pertinent for the species conservation in areas where bushmeat poaching is prevalent. It is worth noting that the golden cat is endemic to the forest zones of equatorial Africa where poaching for bushmeat using snares is ubiquitous.

Project documents