Feline Small-Spotted Genets (Genetta felina): Ringtails of Angola, Namibia, South Africa, and Zambia

by DerdriuMarriner

Scientists equate science with change. For example, Pluto’s downsizing to dwarf planet is downward change. Feline genets upgrading to species represents upward mobility.

Non-aquatic genets belong to one genus.

Some experts bring forth the genus Osbornictis for the aquatic Congo fish-eating water genets that others call just another Genetta. Scientists disagree on names and status. Some names consequently find themselves classified as synonyms of standard species names while others get subordinated to subspecies status.

All specialists follow the prevailing genus designation with a second, species identification and sometimes with a third, subspecies name. For example, African and Eurasian common small-spotted genets get called Genetta genetta for being the most dispersed species. They nevertheless may be losing one of their many subspecies.

Bio-geography and biology persuade Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle scientist Philippe Gaubert to give feline genets separate species status.

Genetta felina's landscape: Port Elizabeth, auto industry center, major seaport, and tourism hotspot sited in Eastern Cape Province, southeastern South Africa,

Naturalist F.W. FitzSimons (August 6, 1870 – March 25, 1951), who emigrated from Garvaghey, Northern Ireland, to South Africa in 1881, noted in 1919 abundance of recent killings and captures of G. felina in proximity to Port Elizabeth (p. 11)
Port Elizabeth's Boardwalk: a world of 24-hour casinos and entertainment
Port Elizabeth's Boardwalk: a world of 24-hour casinos and entertainment


Common names also are called trivial and vernacular designations. They come from:

  • The preferences of non-specialists and scientists;
  • The weight of tradition.

For example, feline genets get called South African small-spotted genets. They also have a binomial (“two-name”), Latin, scientific, or taxonomic classification. The categorization is the result of:

  • An initial official identification;
  • Ensuing revisions updated by scientific research and technological breakthroughs.

The first presentation occurs in 1811 by Carl Peter Thunberg (November 11, 1743 – August 8, 1828), as:

  • Jönköping-born Swedish naturalist;
  • Medical and natural history graduate under Småland-born Swedish botanist, physician, proto-ecologist, proto-taxonomist, and zoologist Carl Linnaeus (May 23, 1707 – January 10, 1778) at Uppsala University, 1767;
  • Specimen collector in South Africa, 1772 – 1775 and 1778.


Carl Per Thunberg, known as "The Father of South African Botany," collected faunal, including Genetta felina, and floral specimens during his stay of 3+ years in South Africa.

frontispiece, Voyages de C.P. Thunberg, au Japon, par le Cap be Bonne Espérance, les Isles de la Sonde, etc. (1796)
frontispiece, Voyages de C.P. Thunberg, au Japon, par le Cap be Bonne Espérance, les Isles de la Sonde, etc. (1796)


The holotype acts as the “common, whole” specimen upon which the admission requirements and defining characteristics of a taxonomic category are based. The Thunberg specimen functions as the holotype for feline South African small-spotted genets. But insightful information also may be gathered from the formal, synonymous identification of the macrura (long-tailed) genet specimen in 1892 by Wymbritseradiel-born Dutch zoologist Fredericus Anna Jentink (August 20, 1844 – November 4, 1913), as:

  • Leiden Rijksmuseum van Naturlijke Historie (National Natural History Museum) curator, 1875-, and director, 1884-;
  • Notes from the Leyden Museum journal editor, 1884-;
  • Catalogue ostéologique des mammifères (Catalogue of the Structure and Function of Mammal Bones) and Catalogue systématique des mammifères (Systematic Catalogue of Mammals) publisher, 1887 and 1892.


head closeup of Genetta felina

Wroclaw Zoo (Ogród Zoologiczny we Wrocławiu), Lower Silesia, southwestern Poland
Wroclaw Zoo (Ogród Zoologiczny we Wrocławiu), Lower Silesia, southwestern Poland


Scientific consensus thus far allows feline South African small-spotted genets to constitute one of the African – Eurasian common small-spotted genet’s sub-Saharan African subspecies. But at the same time the scientific community of the twenty-first century can be characterized as open and receptive to re-examining and re-structuring older information in the light of cutting-edge technology and fresher data. One such cycle of research and revision deals with promoting feline South African small-spotted genets to their own separate species. The impetus for such a change in nomenclature and taxonomy derives from the efforts of Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle scientist Philippe Gaubert as dissertator, publisher, researcher, and specialist on such contemporary viverrids as Africa’s and Eurasia’s genets and Africa’s oyans.


Genetta felina

Wroclaw Zoo (Ogród Zoologiczny we Wrocławiu), Lower Silesia, southwestern Poland
Wroclaw Zoo (Ogród Zoologiczny we Wrocławiu), Lower Silesia, southwestern Poland


Feline genets call home:

  • Angola;
  • Namibia;
  • South Africa;
  • Zambia.

Five species somewhat do likewise. They include:

  • African – Eurasian common small-spotted: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe;
  • Angolan miombo (Genetta angolensis): Angola, Botswana, Congo-Kinshasa, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe;
  • Blotched large-spotted Cape (G. tigrina) of South Africa;
  • Letabae (G. letabae): Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland;
  • Rusty-spotted panther (G. maculata): Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Centrafrique, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia.


Genetta felina's preferential landscapes of dry vleis (intermittent or seasonal, shallow lakes) eventually may desiccate, becoming dead vleis, as in Dead Vlei ("Dead Marsh"), a white claypan in Namib-Naukluft National Park in west central Namibia:

stark contrast of whiteness of claypan (subsoil with high clay content) with orange of iron-rich sand dunes surrounding Sossusvlei (Nama: sossus "no return, dead end" + Afrikaans: vlei "marsh")
Dead acacia trees (Acacia erioloba) in Dead Vlei, near Sossusvlei, Namibia
Dead acacia trees (Acacia erioloba) in Dead Vlei, near Sossusvlei, Namibia


All six semi-sympatric (“same-ranging”) genet species commit to:

  • Individual dens in rocky crevices or tree burrows and hollows on overlapping territories for mixed-gender neighbors and separated for same-gender;
  • Nocturnal forages for insects, plants, and small birds, mammals, raptors, and reptiles;
  • Rainy-season mating;
  • Yearly litters of 1+ grey-furred newborns.

But they differ bio-geographically. For example, feline genets inhabit:

  • Desert-proximitous lands;
  • Dry vlei (lakelets), particularly in South Africa’s Free State Province;
  • Thicketed vegetation.

They join:

  • Cape and common genets on grasslands;
  • Common, letabae, miombo, and panther genets on woodland savannahs.

With common genets, they overlook:

  • The coastal forests of Cape genets;
  • The forest - savannah mosaics of letabae, miombo, and panther genets;
  • The montane- and rain-forests of panther genets.


Genetta felina's landscape: Golden Gate Highlands National Park in eastern Free State Province, central South Africa ~

Popular for its iconic sandstone cliffs, with rock paintings of indigenous San (Saan) people, Golden Gate Highlands National Park also comprise grasslands, appealing habitats for Genetta felina.
Golden Gate Highlands sandstone cliffs
Golden Gate Highlands sandstone cliffs


Scientists attribute close-relatedness to:

  • Abyssinian (Genetta abyssinica) and Thierry’s haussa (G. thierryi) genets;
  • Aquatic (G. piscivora) and Johnston’s (G. johnstoni) genets;
  • Feline and miombo genets.

But the above-mentioned relationships do not mean that feline and miombo genets resemble each other more than the other semi-sympatric species. All six species in fact evidence:

  • Continuous, dark, full, mid-dorsal, shoulders-to-tail-base line;
  • Darkened backsides to upper rear-limbs;
  • Low spot density.


Common European Small-Spotted Genet (Genetta genetta):

External similarities and geographic overlaps encouraged the assignment of Feline Genets to the status of a subspecies of the Common Genet.
Deux genettes communes (Genetta genetta), parc animalier des Pyrénées, Argelès-Gazost, Hautes-Pyrénées, France.
Deux genettes communes (Genetta genetta), parc animalier des Pyrénées, Argelès-Gazost, Hautes-Pyrénées, France.


But only common and feline genets exhibit:

  • Cream-grey upper-sides;
  • 8 – 9 each of alternating thinner dark and wider pale rings on a bright-tipped tail;
  • Small-sized spots;
  • Upper-limb spots forming fragmented horizontal lines.

The more ferret-looking common genets nevertheless have grey inner upper-limbs whereas the more cat-looking felines have darkened inner upper-limbs.


Genetta felina, with characteristic "... five rows of irregular black spots on each side of its body, and by the tip of its tail being white." (FW Fitzsimons)

F.W. Fitzsimons, The Natural History of South Africa: Mammals (1919), Vol. II, opp. p. 11
F.W. Fitzsimons, The Natural History of South Africa: Mammals (1919), Vol. II, opp. p. 11

Conclusion: A permanent promotion for Feline Small-Spotted Genets from subspecies (Genetta genetta felina) to its own species as Genetta felina?


The Basque Country of southwestern Europe accounts for one of the African - Eurasian common small-spotted genet’s naturalized homelands. Basque culture generally calls for nomenclature consistent with the ancient truth Izena duen guzia omen da (“That which has a name exists”). Before the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries’ scientific advances and technological breakthroughs, accepting the existence of 1 aquatic and 13 non-aquatic genet species can be considered accurate identification. But the scientific method commits to informational cycles of collecting, investigating, organizing, re-gathering, and re-interpreting. Current evidence indicates that respecting bio-geographical and biological distinctions involves expanding the non-aquatic species to 16, with promotions from subspecies and synonymousness for:

  • Feline genets;
  • Letabae genets;
  • Schouteden’s genets (Genetta maculata schoutedeni).


Genetta felina's landscape: Luanda (formerly: São Paulo da Assunção de Loanda), administrative center, capital, largest city, and chief seaport of Angola ~

Genetta felina specimen in Berlin Museum was collected by German zoologist Paul Matschie (August 11, 1861 – March 7, 1926) under synonym of Genetta genetta bella c. 1902, with Luanda, northwestern Angola, as type locality.
view of Luanda Bay via Promenade, Marginal Avenida 4 de Fevreiro, Luanda
view of Luanda Bay via Promenade, Marginal Avenida 4 de Fevreiro, Luanda



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


Genetta felina's homeland of Zambia is renowned for Victoria Falls, iconic symbol of nature's spectacular vastness in the African continent:

Designated in 1989 as UNESCO World Heritage Site, Victoria Falls (Tokaleya Tonga: Mosi-oa-Tunya, "the smoke that thunders"), on Zambia-Zimbabwe border, is created by Zambezi River's plummeting through first of a series of six gorges.
Victoria Falls, First Gorge, Zambian Side
Victoria Falls, First Gorge, Zambian Side

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Genetta felina's legendary landscape: Cape of Good Hope (Afrikaans: die Kaap van Goeie Hoop), southwestern South Africa ~

Originally named Cabo das Tormentas ("Cape of Storms") by Cape's first known European discoverer, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias (c. 1451 – May 29, 1500), Cape of Good Hope is hailed by navigators as waypoint in southerly journey along African coast.
View of Cape of Good Hope, from Cape Point: looking west, from coastal cliffs above Cape Point, overlooking Dias beach
View of Cape of Good Hope, from Cape Point: looking west, from coastal cliffs above Cape Point, overlooking Dias beach
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya), UNESCO World Heritage Site, Zambia, Africa: photo by Jenny Pate

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 - Robert Harding

Wall Mural ~ Victoria Falls: photo by Paul Joynson-Hicks

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

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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DerdriuMarriner on 06/11/2014

Mira, Videos can be so enjoyably educational and enlightening about nature.
Whenever possible, I include videos, but, sadly, for many of these genets little or nothing is available. The website arkive.org often includes videos but their creative commons licenses are restricted to non-commercial sharing.

Mira on 06/06/2014

I agree these are fascinating creatures. I'd love to see more videos, if you could find good ones. You did include videos in some of your nature articles.

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