Bourlon's Genets (Genetta bourloni): Ringtails of Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Sierra Leone

by DerdriuMarriner

One-half to two-thirds of all animals are unknown to science. Some species excel at getaways. Thanks to Philippe Gaubert, we now know about Bourlon’s northwest African genets.

Some animals balk at becoming known to experts and non-specialists alike. One such example can be found among African genets in general and Bourlon’s genets in particular. Knowing the nocturnal tree-dweller’s looks but ignoring habitats does not necessarily lead to ranking genets high among the world’s faunal escape artists.

Excepting aquatic forms (Genetta piscivora), genets get spotted bodies and striped tails.

For artists and fashionistas, spots with stripes guarantee standing out in canvas and textile line-ups. For a diminutive carnivore whose remote rainforest homeland showcases dappled lighting and vegetation, they have super-smart survival implications. Acute senses, ambient coloring, rapid moves, and remote niches help explain ignorance of the existence of Bourlon’s genets until the twenty-first century.

Genetta piscivora, under synonym of Osbornictis piscivora: Unlike Bourlon's Genets and 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, 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


Sightings of Bourlon’s genets are rare. They cluster around one of two venues:

  • Markets;

  • Museums.

So non-specialists and scientists generally do not count upon observing Bourlon’s genets as living inhabitants of parks, reserves, wildlands or zoos. They instead expect to find them as fresh bush-meat and processed furs in local bazaars or as lifeless specimens in natural history collections. Twenty-nine preserved samples from the two above-mentioned sources indeed fill museum holdings worldwide. They originate in:

  • Gatherings from the wild for mis-categorization or non-classification;

  • Recoveries from the butcher’s block.

One of the older specimens in fact traces back to Oda, Ghana in 1946. More recent specimens regularly turn up in southeast Guinea's bush-meat markets. 



Technology can take up the slack from unshared village anecdotes of local hunters and unsuccessful in-person observations of Bourlon's genets in the field and in the wild. Camera-traps and radio-telemetry contribute to understanding enigmatic fauna if their placement and range are judicious. Specialists find just case for optimism in this regard since they can guesstimate the bio-geography of Bourlon's genets, thanks to in-print and on-line information-sharing from 2003 onward by the ring-tailed mammal's official discoverer, Philippe Gaubert. So they know to direct technology to niches within the upper rainforests of:

  • Ghana;

  • Guiana;

  • Ivory Coast;

  • Sierra Leone.

But appropriate location and proper scope still may not guarantee success since Bourlon's genets are super-intelligent eluders of:

  • Competitors;

  • People;

  • Predators.   


skin of King Genet (Genetta poensis): King Genets overlap with Bourlon's Genets in Liberia.

R.I. Pocock, Report Upon a Small Collection of Mammalia (1907), Plate LIV, Figure 4
R.I. Pocock, Report Upon a Small Collection of Mammalia (1907), Plate LIV, Figure 4


Tracking devices have to be penetrate the African rainforest's prevailing low-light conditions. They also must differentiate between Bourlon's genets and such sympatric genets of overlapping distributions and similar habitats as Johnston's, king and large-spotted genets (Genetta johnstoni, G. poensis, and G. maculata). They need to get beyond what all non-aquatic genets showcase:

  • Alert ears;

  • Big, dark-adapted, rounded eyes;

  • Elongated neck;

  • 5 digits per paw, each armed with a curved, retractable, sharp, short claw and responsible for fast, graceful digitigrade (“on the digits,” tiptoes) locomotion;

  • Fox-like, pointed muzzle;

  • Muscular, short limbs;

  • Musky-smelling, self-defensive, territory-marking scent glands;

  • Raccoon-like ring-patterned tail;

  • Sharp teeth realizing cat-like, lethal, nape-of-the-neck, painless, quick bites to prey;

  • Sinewy, spotted body;

  • Squirrel-like reversible ankles;

  • Super-sensory whiskers.   


Along with other non-aquatic genets, Bourlon's Genets enjoy reputation as stink cats (German: Stinkkatze) and as masters of alert, elusive elegance:

"Deutsch-Süd-Westafrika, Stinkkatze" photo by Walther Dobbertin (1882 - January 12, 1961)
German Federal Archives, Koblenz, Rhineland-Palatinate state (Rheinland-Pfalz), west central Germany
German Federal Archives, Koblenz, Rhineland-Palatinate state (Rheinland-Pfalz), west central Germany


Bourlon's genets fit in with the dark-spotted, dark-and-light-striped, and light-bodied looks of all non-aquatic genets. They individualize:

  • Broad forehead; 

  • Brown markings;

  • Dark, shoulder-to-tail-base spinal stripe;

  • Cream-grey ground coloration;

  • Dark cheeks, chin-line, eyebrows, and nose;

  • Dark lower limbs and paws, with soles furry between paw pads;

  • Darkened tail, from mid-point to tip;

  • Light-ringed chin, ear, eyes, mouth, nose, and throat;

  • Rough, short fur measuring 0.79 – 1.18 inches (20 – 30 millimeters) on the tail.

The spots in the uppermost corporeal rows each merge into 2 mid-back-to-tail-base stripes. The tail sports:

  • Alternating series of 5 – 7 thin off-white and wide brown rings;

  • Long, thin, stripe running the upper tail's length.


Philippe Gaubert, discoverer of Bourlon's Genet, noted recorded appearances of Genetta bourloni and Genetta pardina in same localities in Sérédou, southeastern Guinea, which is the geographic area of holotype (type specimen) for Bourlon's Genet:

Genetta pardina fieldiana (No. 51541): A ~ palmar surface of left fore foot; B ~ plantar surface of left hind foot. Natural size.
J.A. Allen, "Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition" (1922 - 1925), Figure 16, page 122
J.A. Allen, "Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition" (1922 - 1925), Figure 16, page 122


Experts find Bourlon's genet-related anecdotes and data historically sparse. They hypothesize genet-consistent:

  • Avoiding competitive mammals (including co-viverrids), raptors, and reptiles;

  • Delivering annually 1 – 4 grey-furred offspring born briefly blind and deaf;

  • Demarcating same-gender – and overlapping opposite-gender – home ranges;

  • Foraging nightly from day-occupied burrows and hollows.

They know that Bourlon's genets realize physical and sexual maturity, with:

  • Dentition of 12 incisors, 4 canines, 16 premolars, and 8 molars evenly distributed between lower and upper jaws;

  • Head-and-body lengths of 19.29 – 19.69 inches (490 – 500 millimeters);

  • Tail lengths of 15.75 – 16.54 inches (400 – 420 millimeters);

  • Weights of 3.31 – 4.41 pounds (1.5 – 2 kilograms).   


A skin of a Bourlon's Genet, collected from Mount Nimba in June 2001, is in Paris' Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle.

landscape of Mount Nimba: views of Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, and Liberia.
landscape of Mount Nimba: views of Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, and Liberia.


The position of Bourlon's genets within their rainforest habitats tentatively can be considered sustainable, currently and future-wise. Survival temporarily goes unchallenged precisely because of the ring-tailed viverrid's recognized bio-geography by Philippe Gaubert, as:

  • Dissertation author of Systématique et phylogénie du genre Genetta et des énigmatiques "genetlike taxa" Prionodon, Poiana et Osbornictis (Carnivora, Viverridae): caractérisation de la sous-famille des Viverrinae et étude des patrons de diversification au sein du continent africain;

  • Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle scientist;

  • Viverrid specialist, particularly of genets and linsangs.

Philippe indeed places Bourlon's genets with co-rainforest-specific king (Genetta poensis) and Schouteden's (G. schoutedeni) genets. The remote niches inhabited by these genets currently resist large-scale:

  • Construction;

  • Farming;

  • Logging;

  • Mining;

  • Ranching.   


Le Grand Rocher ("Great Rock"), emblematic symbol of Paris' Zoo de Vincennes: 214 foot (65 meter)-high artificial mountain of reinforced concrete built 1932 -1934 by architect Charles Letrosne (April 7, 1868 - August 8, 1939) ~

Both common name and species name of Bourlon's Genet (Genetta bourloni) honor memory of Philippe Bourlon, keeper at Zoo de Vincennes who died from injuries inflicted on September 24, 2001 by a lion while he was feeding lions in their enclosure.
Parc zoologique de Vincennes
Parc zoologique de Vincennes

Conclusion: A future for a newly identified genet species with an almost invisible past?


Philippe Gaubert is responsible for the common and taxonomic names of Bourlon's genets (Genetta bourloni). Both names memorialize Philippe Bourlon's outstanding tenure at the Paris-Vincennes zoo, 1978 – 2001. They persuade Philippe's contemporaries to uncover other popular designations -- to join the extra-regional, Swahili word kano for all genets -- since Bourlon's genets inspire interest in four coastal west African countries.

The discovery hopefully will be accompanied by the proliferation of governmental protection and scientific research preceding environmentally-friendly policies and practices regarding the life cycles and natural histories of Bourlon's genets in particular and world-stressed fauna and flora in particular. Effectively resolving sustainability threats from agro-industrialism, environmental pollution, globally-warmed climate change, and over-hunting will require nothing less.  


landscape of Man: market town where skins of Bourlon's Genets are sold

La Dent de Man: Volcanic plug in native forest and plant habitat, western Côte d'Ivoire
La Dent de Man: Volcanic plug in native forest and plant habitat, western Côte d'Ivoire



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


landscape of Bourlon's Genets:

Nzérékoré, also spelled N'Zérékoré, largest city in Guinée Forestière region of south-eastern Guinea
Nzérékoré, capital city of Nzérékoré Prefecture
Nzérékoré, capital city of Nzérékoré Prefecture

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Genetta bourloni's landscape: Mount Bintumani, highest peak (6,381 feet; 1,945 meters) in Loma Mountains, northeastern Sierra Leone ~

Loma Mountains are protected area in Sierra Leone, designated as a non-hunting forest reserve since 1952.
Mount Bintumani
Mount Bintumani
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Genet: photo by Andy and Clare Teare

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

Animal Picture with Genet, c.1560: illustration by Ludger Tom Ring the Younger (1522–1584)

Animal Picture with Genet, c.1560

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: 10/19/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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