Giant Forest Genets (Genetta victoriae): Ringtails of Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda

by DerdriuMarriner

Animal names are meant to inform even though they can be misleading. For example, giant forest genets do not look super-huge. They live in both forested savannahs and rainforests.

Genets articulate quintessential animal beauty, grace, and intelligence.
• The slender athleticism of attractively spotted bodies and the strong balancing-act of gracefully striped tails combine to make them candidates for Mother Nature-styled Olympics of the fastest runners, the highest climbers, and the strongest jumpers.
• Genets in fact finish among the best in terms of sheer physical ability by blazing safety and speed records for squirming inside, through, and outside any opening whose width is at least that of their head.
• No matter the play, rest or work activity, they never have bad-fur days or look anything but great in flesh or on film.
All of the above holds true even for their “large-size” member, the giant forest genet.

Adult male Genetta victoriae (No. 51409): collected on September 29, 1913, at Akenge; total length of animal, 975 mm.

J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Plate XVI
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Plate XVI

 

It does not involve a lot of effort to discover what African and Eurasian common small-spotted genets (Genetta genetta) look like. The day-sleeping, night-working, opportunistically-foraging, tree-dwelling carnivorous mammals in question draw upon ancient interactions as favored pets to Egypt’s Pharaohs, North Africa’s Muslims, and Spain’s Moors. Nowadays they encounter no problems in:

  • Adapting to life in parks, reserves, and zoos;
  • Becoming amiable pets along with cats and dogs, but not with birds and hamsters.

They therefore find themselves the most recognized of the world’s 14 – 17, predominantly Africa-based genet species. But this exposure goes against the prevailing limelight-shunning reclusiveness of typically diminutive genets in general and the (only slightly larger) giant forest genet (Genetta victoriae) in particular.

 

Oldfield Thomas applied his zoological genius and sensitivity to identifying and naming Great Forest Genets (Genetta victoriae):

portrait bequeathed by Oldfield Thomas to London's Natural History Museum
oil on canvas by John Ernest Breun (1862-1921)
oil on canvas by John Ernest Breun (1862-1921)

 

Scientists honor Millbrook-born British zoologist extraordinaire Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas (February 21, 1858 – June 16, 1929) for making giant forest genets known outside East African bio-geographies in:

  • Democratic Republic of Congo;
  • Rwanda (per Moscow-born zoologist Vladimir Dinets in 2005);
  • Uganda.

 

 

Oldfield’s taxonomy of 1901 involves a specimen recorded as collected from the Entebbe shores of Lake Victoria by Denbigh-born Welsh cartographer, explorer, painter, photographer, polyglot, and writer Sir Henry Hamilton Johnston (June 12, 1858 – July 31, 1927). Consistent with all of Oldfield’s 1,000+ publications and 2,000+ descriptions, the identification is true even though the specimen actually represents the Lupanzula area, 10 miles (16.09 kilometers) west of Beni, in the Semliki National Park portion of the Ituri Forest.

 

Sir Henry "Harry" Hamilton Johnston: Oldfield Thomas studied Genetta victoriae specimen collected by Sir Johnston.

photo by Elliott & Fry
Cassell's Universal Portrait Gallery (1895), p. 185
Cassell's Universal Portrait Gallery (1895), p. 185

 

Four genets are sympatric (same-ranging) with giant forest genets. Common genets avoid the dense rainforests relished by:

  • Aquatic genets (Genetta piscivora);
  • Giant forest genets;
  • Rusty-spotted panther genets (Genetta maculata);
  • Servaline genets (Genetta servalina).

Aquatic genets cannot be found in the mixed forest and savannah mosaics which are acceptable to common, giant, panther, and servaline genets. Aquatic and giant genets do not frequent the montane forests and woodland savannahs which common, panther, and servaline genets tolerate. Deciduous forest adaptabilities notwithstanding, giant genets uniquely favor lowland and middle-elevation rainforest niches up to 5,905.52+ feet (1,800+ meters) above sea level and monthly configurations of:

  • 5.52 inches (140.08 millimeters) in precipitation;
  • 57.73 inches (1,466.33 millimeters) in evapo-transpiration;
  • 74.19°F (23.44°C) in temperature.

 

Giant Forest Genets' floral synecology: Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Ugandan park created in 1991 and designated in 1994 as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Five different vegetation zones (grassland, montane forest, bamboo/mimulopsis, heather/Rapanea, afro-alpine moorland) are found on Rwenzori Mountains (also known as Mountains of the Moon), which border Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Bujuku Valley, Rwenzori Mountains National Park, at about 12,100 ft (3,700 m) in Rwenzori Mountains, southwest Ghana
Bujuku Valley, Rwenzori Mountains National Park, at about 12,100 ft (3,700 m) in Rwenzori Mountains, southwest Ghana

 

Specific niches within East Africa’s forested and wooded habitats therefore claim aquatic, common, giant forest, rusty-spotted panther, and servaline genets. Physical differences compound bio-geographical distinctions. Each genet indeed is distinguishable by:

  • Body coloring;
  • Distribution and patterning of spots;
  • Mature size;
  • Number and width of tail rings.

But an easy identification may be realized just by examining the genet in question’s balance- and ballast-acting, plush tail.

  • Aquatic genets do not have ringtails.
  • Common genets have bright-tipped tails with 8 – 9 thick white bands.
  • Giant genets have black-tipped, super-thick tails with 6 – 8 thin white rings.
  • Panther genets have black-tipped, thin tails with 6 – 9 broad white rings.
  • Servaline genets have bright-tipped, thin tails with 9 – 11 bright stripes.

 

illustration by colonial administrator-explorer-linguist-naturalist Sir Harry Johnston (June 12, 1858 - July 31, 1927), whose Genetta victoriae specimen was studied by Oldfield Thomas in his description and identification of Giant Forest Genets.

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

 

Giant forest genets are as agile, sinewy, and sleek as all other genets. But size differences become noticeable when comparing dead and live species. They do not detract from the giant genet’s physique of:

  • Alert, big ears;
  • Big, dark-adapted, rounded eyes whose eyeshine is yellow;
  • Crested nape;
  • Cylindrical, dark-tipped, short, super-plush tail with 6 – 8 dark bands separating 80%-thinner off-white rings and sporting an almost undetectable dark longitudinal stripe;
  • Dark limbs and thick under-chin line;
  • Dark mid-dorsal line overlaid with a yellow-white stripe and running discontinuously from shoulders to tail base;
  • Dark-and-light spotted under-sides;
  • Dark-haired, light-padded paw soles;
  • Thick white lower eye-rings;
  • 2 dark bands running from each ear down each side of the neck;
  • Yellow-white upper-sides.

 

Genetta victoriae

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. 27, p. 139
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Fig. 27, p. 139

 

Scientists are unacquainted with giant genet life cycles and natural histories. From prevailing genet lifestyles, they guesstimate:

  • Birds, fruits, insects, and small amphibians, mammals and reptiles as prey;
  • Food-web participation and pest and vegetation control as obligate roles;
  • Mammals, raptors, and reptiles as predators;
  • Tree branches, burrows and hollows as dens.

 

Adult male Genetta victoriae (No. 51430): C-lateral view of left mandible; D-crown view of lower left dentition. Natural size.

illustration by Baroness Helene F. Ziska (born 1893)
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Fig. 23, p. 138
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by th...

Rhinarium (Latin: "belonging to the nose") of adult male Genetta victoriae. Natural size.

illustration by Baroness Helene F. Ziska (born 1893)
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Fig. 25, p. 138
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by th...

 

They know that physical and sexual maturity expresses:

  • Dentition of 6 incisors, 2 canines, 8 premolars, and 4 molars per lower and upper jaws;
  • Head-and-body lengths of 20.47 – 23.62 inches (520 – 600 millimeters);
  • Paw lengths of 3.54 – 4.02 inches (98 – 102 millimeters);
  • Tail lengths of 16.26 – 19.29 inches (413 – 490 millimeters);
  • Tail-hair lengths of 1.58 – 1.77 inches (40 – 45 millimeters);
  • Weights of 7.72 pounds (3.5 kilograms).

 

Skull of adult male Genetta victoriae (No. 51430): 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. 22, p. 137
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Fig. 22, p. 137

Conclusion: Can an elusive genet, long eluding detection, despite its larger size, as a distinct species until 1901, succeed in eluding intense environmental and hunting threats in the 21st century?

 

Twenty-first century Africa appears mysterious to experts and non-specialists alike.  The continent still attracts entrepreneurs questing resources, environmentalists relishing beauty, and experts seeking answers. Giant forest genets consequently join with their fellow species in occupying forefronts in:

  • Modernizing and tradition-bound overlaps;
  • Urban and wildland interfaces.

They may be considered prepared and unprepared for such stresses. They offer as self-defenses:

  • Bio-geographies extending 310.69 miles (500 kilometers) further southward than historically indicated;
  • Extra-fast digitigrade (on-the-digits, tiptoed) escapes;
  • Handstand-released, nauseating, territory-marking stink-bombs;
  • Super-sharp biting, hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching;
  • 20 curved, retractable, strong claws;
  • Two-pawed boxing.

They need governmental protection and scientific research against:

  • Intense agro-industrialism;
  • Intensified globally-warmed climate change;
  • Intensifying habitat loss;
  • Intensive bushmeat- and fur hatmaking-related hunting.

 

Giant Forest Genets' faunal synecology: okapi (Okapia johnstoni), also known as forest giraffe or zebra giraffe ~

Endangered okapi, native to Okapi Wildlife Reserve, is giraffid mammal.
Sir Harry Johnston, The Uganda Protectorate (1902), Vol. I, frontispiece
Sir Harry Johnston, The Uganda Protectorate (1902), Vol. I, frontispiece

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.

 

 

Giant Forest Genet's landscape: Okapi Wildlife Reserve in Ituri Forest, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, near borders with Sudan and Uganda ~

Created in 1992, Okapi Wildlife Reserve was designated in 1996 as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Epulu River flowing through the Okapi Fauna Reserve, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Epulu River flowing through the Okapi Fauna Reserve, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Giant Forest Genet's landscape: active stratovolcano Mount Nyiragongo, with an elevation of 11,385 feet (3,470 meters), has a lava lake in its main crater.

Nyiragongo and nearby Nyamuragira account for 40% of Africa's historical volcanic eruptions.
Lava Lake of the Nyiragongo Volcano in Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
Lava Lake of the Nyiragongo Volcano in Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Aerial view of Mount Visoke with Mount Mikono in background in volcanic chain, Virunga Mountains of Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda: photo by Adrian Warren

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

Virunga Mountains in Rwanda: photo by Andy Rouse

Giant Forest Genets' mammalian synecology: Dian Fossey's Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, home of critically endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei)
Virunga Mountains in Rwanda

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 05/16/2014

Mira, According to some estimates, only about 50% of the species on this planet have been identified. Geography can be very protective of faunal and floral dwellers. Remote or difficult-to-access locations also preclude or discourage discovery of faunal and floral lifeforms.
On the other hand, naturalists continue in their discoveries, no matter what the terrain. :-)
So much remains to be learned about genets, long protected by their solitary lifestyles and their ability to remain hidden in plain sight.
New discoveries and reassignments (thanks to cellular level decoding) are still happening in the 21st century.
Although thylacines (Tasmanian tiger), now presumed to be extinct, do seem to give off similar vibes, they're currently classified as marsupials.
The okapi have such an unusual appearance that they leave an impression, even when they're name is forgotten. Their striping is charming.

Mira on 05/15/2014

As I said before, these creatures look so unfamiliar to me. So they were "collected" as a specimen only in 1901. I wonder, do scientists know how old these creatures are on an evolution timeline. I kept thinking today they reminded me of the Tazmanian tiger, even though their legs are shorter, their heads a little different, and their bodies spotted rather than striped. But they seem to have the same vibe :)

It was also nice to see okapi. The name sounded familiar, but the image wasn't. I wonder if we knew more about them if they lived elsewhere. We seem to know so painfully little about Africa, certain Asian lands, and so on.

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