Unraveling the Puzzle of Madagascar's Forest Cats


In her 30 years working as a researcher in Madagascar, CU Boulder Anthropology Professor Michelle Sauther has had a number of chance encounters with a strange forest creature: a wild, oversized cat with a characteristic tabby-like coloring.

“When I first started working in Madagascar, I noticed that these cats all seemed to look the same,” said Sauther, whose research focuses on primates. “They were big, and they were always the same color.” Scientists had no idea where they came from—the island nation has no native cats of its own.

Now, in a study published in Conservation Genetics, Sauther and her colleagues have drawn on genetic data from dozens of these wild cats to narrow in on an answer. According to their findings, the animals may not be newcomers to Madagascar at all. Instead, the cats seemed to have hitched a ride to the island on trade ships from as far away as Kuwait hundreds or even more than 1,000 years ago.

The results offer a first step toward better understanding the threat that these weird felines might pose to Madagascar’s native species. They include the fossa, a forest predator that looks feline but is more closely related to the mongoose.

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