Aquatic Fish-Eating Genets (Genetta piscivora): Non-Ringtails in the Democratic Republic of Congo

by DerdriuMarriner

Non-aquatic genets eat meat and whatever tastes good in their paths. They have spotted bodies and ringed tails. But none of that is true of all-dark, fish-eating aquatic genets.

For wildlife-lovers in the know, the word genet calls to mind banded, ringed or striped tails on spotted bodies. Genet bodies indeed combine:
• Cat-like musculature;
• Ferret-like faces;
• Leopard-like bodies;
• Mongoose-like limbs;
• Squirrel-like ankles.

They also conjure up raccoons what with full, hairy tails alternating dark and light in different- or same-sized, full or narrow strips. But this physical profile accurately describes all genets only in regard to non-color attributes. It does not fit at all in terms of the only genet species that is deemed aquatic.

Aquatic Congo fish-eating water genets have all but two of the necessary physical attributes of genets. Excepting white-patched heads and throats, they lack spotting or striping anywhere on their all-dark physiques.

Aquatic Genets' faunal synecology: A pair of Congo peafowl (Afropavo congensis) ~

As with Genetta piscivora, very little is known of Afropavo congensis, which also is a favorite prey of locals in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Antwerp Zoo, northeastern Belgium
Antwerp Zoo, northeastern Belgium

 

Genets are considered aquatic when they depend upon the rivers and streams near which they establish dens. They are deemed non-aquatic when they do not structure their lives around the water sources nevertheless present in their forested, grassy, vegetated or wooded environments. Either way, they end up categorized as carnivores (“meat-eaters”) despite:

  • Aquatic genets joining the world's piscivores (“fish-eaters”) and ranivores (“frog-eaters”);

  • Non-aquatic genets warranting omnivorousness (“everything-eating”) for consuming what opportune occasions offer.

They also get classified as day-sleeping, night-tripping tree-dwellers despite:

  • All genets becoming daytime activists during the most humid, wettest rainy season months;

  • Aquatic genets claiming ground-based life cycles and natural histories;

  • Non-aquatic genets denning from rocky crevices and tree burrows or hollows.

 

Genetta victoriae overlaps with Genetta piscivora in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

illustration of Genetta victoriae by colonial administrator-explorer-linguist-naturalist Sir Harry Johnston (June 12, 1858 - July 31, 1927)
Oldfield Thomas, On the More Notable Mammals Obtained by Sir Harry Johnston (1901), Vol. II, Plate V, opp. p. 85
Oldfield Thomas, On the More Notable Mammals Obtained by Sir Harry Johnston (1901), Vol. II, Plate V, opp. p. 85

 

Scientists deem close relatives:

  • All-dark aquatic genets of Democratic Republic of the Congo;

  • Spotted-and-striped Johnston's genets (Genetta johnstoni) of Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

They identify genets sympatric (“same-ranging”) with aquatics. Congo-Brazzaville and DR Congo include:

  • Giants (G. victoriae) of Rwanda and Uganda;

  • Rusty-spotted panthers (G. maculata) of Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Centrafrique, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia;

  • Schouteden's (G. schoutedeni) of Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, and Uganda;

  • Servalines (G. servalina) of Cameroon, Centrafrique, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

 

 

But aquatics cannot be mistaken for any other genet. Bio-geographically, they demand specific niches:

  • At altitudes of 1,509.19 – 4,921.26 feet (460 – 1,500 meters) above sea level;

  • From the Congo River's northeast banks eastward to the Rift Valley;

  • In the World Heritage Site-designated Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the Ituri River Rainforest;

  • Within rainforests dominated by Gilbertiodendron deweverei, tall hardwoods within the Caesalpinioideae subfamily -- named in honor of Arezzo-born Italian botanist Andreas Caesalpinus (June 6, 1519 – February 23, 1603) -- of the Fabaceae (bean, legume, and pea) family.

Physically, they exhibit a deep truth regarding genets:

  • The drier the environment, the lighter the colors;

  • The moister the habitat, the darker the colors.

 

Genetta piscivora, under synonym of Osbornictis piscivora: Unlike other genets, Aquatic Genet lacks spotted body and striped tail ~

illustration by Richard Deckert (December 5, 1878 - January 18, 1971) from skin collected in Niapu, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, December 1, 1913
J.A. Allen, "Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition" (1922 - 1925), Plate XVIII
J.A. Allen, "Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition" (1922 - 1925), Plate XVIII

 

Chestnut, dull red, and rusty brown beautify the aquatic genets':

  • Heads;

  • Long, plush pelts;

  • Upper limbs.

White brightens:

  • Eye-rings;

  • Foreheads;

  • Muzzles;

  • Necks;

  • Throats;

  • Whiskers.

Black darkens:

  • Big, rounded eyes;

  • Elongated, thick tails;

  • Hairless soles;

  • Noses;

  • Paws;

  • Upper-facial striping.

The colors imitate sunlight on the bark of nitrogen-fixing trees and the poor soils in dense rainforests whose ambient conditions monthly configure:

  • 5.70 inches (144.85 millimeters) in precipitation;

  • 59.90 inches (1,521.36 millimeters) in evapo-transpiration;

  • 74.53°F (23.63°C) in temperature.

They hide ungenetlike:

  • Small ears;

  • Small olfactory bulbs;

  • Underdeveloped sense of smell;

  • Weak teeth – 12 incisors, 4 canines, 16 premolars, and 8 molars – in which the premolars are ungenetlike larger than the molars.

 

Genetta piscivora, under synonym of Osbornictis piscivora: Adult male (No. 51514): A=lateral view; B=palatal view; C=dorsal view. Natural size.

illustration by Baroness Helene F. Ziska (born 1893)
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Fig. 21, p. 136
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Fig. 21, p. 136

 

Smithsonian National Natural History Museum mammalogist Dr. Kristofer Helgen calls ghost specimens animals known scientifically through museum-held skins and skulls. The aquatic genet's bio-geography and physique indeed can be determined through local hunters:

  • Revealing Bambuti pygmy elders' monopoly over flesh- and fur-processing;

  • Sharing specimens killed in riverside snares.

Little emerges from studying the 30 known museum-held species. But scientists know that physically and sexually mature aquatic genets attain:

  • Head-and-body lengths of 17.32 – 19.69 inches (44 – 50 centimeters);

  • Tail lengths of 13.39 – 16.54 inches (34 – 42 centimeters);

  • Weights of 3.15 – 3.31 ounces (1.43 – 1.5 kilograms).

They suggest that females realize the upper – and males the lower – of the above-mentioned ranges.

 

(No. 51514):

A=palmar surface of left fore foot; B=palmar surface of left hind foot. Natural size.
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Fig. 26, p. 139
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Fig. 26, p. 139

 

Scientists conjecture:

  • Bi-annual deliveries of 2+ grey-furred offspring born after 70+-day gestations during rainy-season months;

  • Functional ears and eyes within 2 weeks;

  • Liquid diets for 2 months, solid foods by 3, and weaned regimes at 4;

  • Nocturnal forages at 6 months;

  • Physical maturity at 1 year;

  • Sexual maturity at 2 – 4 years;

  • Survival expectancies of 7+ years.

They expect:

  • Conflict avoidance – despite 20 curved, retractable claws – with predatory mammals, raptors, and reptiles;

  • Non-overlapping territories for same-gender neighbors but overlaps with mixed;

  • Permanent dens in burrows, crevices, and overgrowth;

  • Regular latrines.

They suspect:

  • Escape routes;

  • Squirms through openings at least the size of genet heads.

 

American zoologist and ornithologist Joel Asaph Allen is credited with first formal description of Aquatic Genets.

Autobiographical notes and a bibliography of the scientific publications of Joel Asaph Allen (1916), frontispiece
Autobiographical notes and a bibliography of the scientific publications of Joel Asaph Allen (1916), frontispiece

Conclusion: Can elusive Aquatic Genets, considered the rarest of Africa's carnivores, slide surreptitiously into thriving sustainability despite 21st century challenges to their ecosystem and despite pygmy bushmeat hunters?

 

Aquatic genet taxonomy dates back almost 100 years, to 1919. It draws upon the expertise of Springfield, Massachusetts-born zoologist Joel Asaph Allen (July 9, 1838 – August 29, 1921), as:

  • Harvard University student of natural historian Louis Agassiz (May 28, 1807 – December 14, 1873);

  • Northern Pacific Railroad expedition naturalist, 1873;

  • Theorist of climate-adapted body shapes, 1877.

It has to be supplemented by scientific research since aquatic genets rank among the world's enigmatic, rare carnivores. Expanding scientific knowledge of aquatic genets needs prioritization because of the twenty-first century's stresses of:

  • Globally-warmed climate change;

  • Habitat-fragmenting logging and mining;

  • Population-decimating over-hunting.

Population sustainability and species survival indeed require the forewarned/forearmed effectiveness of:

  • Governmental protection;

  • Scientific research;

  • Wildlife-lover support.

 

Genetta piscivora are hunted as bushmeat by Mbuti (also known as Bambuti), indigenous pygmies claiming Ituri Rainforest as their homeland; Aquatic Genet bushmeat is reserved exclusively for Mbuti male elders. ~:

Mbuti pygmies with explorer Osa Helen Leighty Johnson (March 14, 1894 – January 7, 1953)
1930 photo by Martin Johnson (October 9, 1884 – January 13, 1937)
1930 photo by Martin Johnson (October 9, 1884 – January 13, 1937)

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

 

Aquatic Genets' wet landscape: water-loving genets are found in Okapi Wildlife Reserve, through which three rivers flow: Nepoko, Ituri and Epulu.

Epulu River flowing through Okapi Fauna Reserve, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Epulu River flowing through Okapi Fauna Reserve, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Aquatic Genets' landscape: Boyoma Falls, on the Lualaba River, a headstream of the Congo River, which defines the southern borders of Aquatic Genets' homeland in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. ~

Boyoma Falls comprises 7 cataracts over 62 miles (100 km) of the Lualaba River between river port towns of Kisangani and Ubundu.
Orientale Province, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
Orientale Province, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Aquatic Genets' faunal synecology: Okapi (Okapia johnstoni), endangered species also known as also known as the forest giraffe or zebra giraffe ~ male okapi: photo by M. Watson

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle - Ardea Wildlife Pets

Actors and Crew on the Set of the Film "African Queen" Being Filmed in the Belgian Congo ~

Aquatic Genets' human synecology: In 1951, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and crew of "The African Queen" disbarked from train station in Ubundu for filming in jungles of northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (then Belgian Congo).
Actors and Crew on the Set of the Film "African Queen" Being Filmed in the Belgian Congo

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 06/11/2014

VioletteRose, Unfortunately, despite the status of their populations, there is a demand for genets and other fascinating creatures as bushmeat and for medicinal, ritualistic, and other purposes.
Me, too, I appreciate the beauty of the Epulu River and of Boyoma Falls. The various landscapes of genets' homelands all have natural beauty in common.

VioletteRose on 06/04/2014

Interesting information about the non aquatic genets, the pictures of the epulu river and boyoma falls look so beautiful. It is sad that the genets and congo peafowls are hunted, which I guess is illegal, as the congo peafowls are already in the endangered species list. Thanks for sharing much details!

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