Scientists were excited to discover images of the African golden cat on video captured by a motion-activated camera. This unique animal is rarely seen by humans.
This is believed to be the first footage of one of the animals in the wild to be released to the public.
A camera set in the Gabon forest captured footage of the medium-sized cat, which weighs five to 16 kilograms (11 to 35 lb), earlier this year.
“I don’t think I can put (capturing the video) into words,” Laila Bahaa-el-din, a Panthera scholar and graduate student who is leading the team, told CNN.
“I live and dream golden cats most days. To get back to camp and put the (footage) on the computer and have this cat basically posing for the camera, it’s incredible. I watched it five times in a row and pretty much didn’t sleep that night.”
In an effort to learn more about the cats, she and a field assistant set 40 sets of motion-activated still-camera traps, and collected photos every couple of weeks for a seven-week period. When photos showed a golden cat near one camera she decided to set up a video camera.
The work being done is already providing new information about the animals.
“Until now, if you read things on the Internet and in (scientific) literature, they’re called nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn or dusk),” CNN quoted Bahaa-el-din as saying. “But a large number of photo captures I get are during the day.”
The African golden cat is found in Central and West Africa, and has red-brown and light grey colour phases, with spotting. Panthera believes the recent footage shows a young adult male of the grey phase.
"Very few western scientists have observed the living animal in the wild and to Panthera’s knowledge, there are no African golden cats currently in captivity anywhere in the world," states the organisation's website.
The team is also examining scat from African golden cats and leopards to learn what they are eating and whether humans’ hunting of leopard prey is forcing those animals to compete with golden cats for food.
Three more areas will be surveyed through 2012.
Panthera is funding the Gabon study, as well as a study led by graduate student David Mills in Uganda’s Kibale Forest, where the golden cat has been the top predator since the extinction of the leopard.
"The biggest problem facing the African golden cat in the wild, as with most feline species, is deforestation and the loss of habitat," states information on the Feline Conservation Federation website. "There is little hunting pressure because the African golden cat is taboo to many local tribes, though there are a few that use the fur in ceremonial dress."