Johnston's Genet (Genetta johnstoni): Ringtail of Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone

by DerdriuMarriner

Smithsonian mammalogist Kris Helgen calls ghosts fauna known only to museums. It fits Johnston’s genets since 1907. In 2000 Rice University scientist Amy Dunham found one alive.

Mother Nature probably can outplay anyone at hide-and-seek. Wild animals and plants do flourish undetected. Scientists estimate that we know less than 50% of Planet Earth’s offerings in terms of fauna and flora.

Some animal species go about their life cycles mis-categorized or even unwitnessed by locals, scientists, and visitors.

An example is the discovery in 2013 by Smithsonian mammals curator Kristopher M. Helgen’s team of previously mis-classified and unknown Colombian and Ecuadorean olinguitos (Bassaricyon neblina). Other species remain museum ghosts known only through skins and skulls. Johnston’s genet represents one such example, until 2000, when Rice University scientist Amy E. Dunham managed a live capture in West Africa’s Ivory Coast.

Johnston's Genet (Genetta johnstoni) range: green = extant; pink = probably extant

Distribution data from IUCN Red List.
Distribution data from IUCN Red List.


The day-sleeping, night-working, tree-dwelling Johnston’s genet indeed gives up few facts to scientists other than suspected self-defenses of:

  • Agile digitigrade (on-the-digits, tiptoed) getaways;
  • 40 teeth -- equally distributed between the lower and upper jaws -- thinned by insect-heavy, meat-poor, plant-supplemented diets;
  • Handstand-released stink-bombs;
  • Stand-up fighting;
  • Territory-marking scent glands;
  • 20 curved, retractable, super-sharp claws.


Johnston's Genets' landscape: Damang Mine, Western Region, southwestern Ghana ~

Estimated reserves of 10 million ounces of gold qualify Damang as one of the largest gold mines in Ghana and in the world.
Ghana's Damang Mine
Ghana's Damang Mine


Little is known since the opportunistically foraging carnivore’s official introduction to experts and specialists outside Africa in 1907 – 1908. The known facts originate in a specimen from one of Liberia’s districts west of:

  • The Cavally and Duobe Rivers;
  • The Putu Mountains, by 15 – 20 miles (24.14 – 32.19 kilometers).

But the specimen represents a species whose bio-geography also involves:

  • Ghana;
  • Guinea;
  • Ivory Coast;
  • Sierra Leone.


Johnston Genets' landscape: Sierra Leone's capital and major Atlantic Ocean port city of Freetown ~

Freetown is home to 20% (= 1,200,000) of Sierra Leone's population of 6,200,000. Sierra Leone's economy is linked to Freetown's harbor, part of Sierra Leone River estuary and the largest natural harbor on the African continent.
Aerial view of Freetown, western Sierra Leone
Aerial view of Freetown, western Sierra Leone


The scientific community credits Reginald Innes Pocock, F.R.S. (March 4, 1863 – August 9, 1947) with first officially identifying Johnston’s genet. Scientists honor the Clifton-born British zoologist’s studies of:

  • Natural history at St. Edward’s School;
  • Natural selection with evolutionary biologist Sir Edward Bagnall Poulton (January 27, 1856 – November 20, 1943);
  • Comparative anatomy at Oxford University Museum of Natural History;
  • Biology and geology with University College-Bristol Professors Conwy Lloyd Morgan (February 6, 1852 – March 6, 1936) and William Johnson Sollas (May 30, 1849 – October 20, 1936).

They respect his professionalism in:

  • London Natural History Museum arachnological, entomological (insect-related), myriapodological (centipede-/millipede-related), and ornithological (bird-related) collections, 1885 - 1904;
  • London Zoo superintendency, 1904 – 1923;
  • British Museum mammals department research, 1923 – 1947.


Sir Henry "Harry" Hamilton Johnston: photo by Elliott & Fry

Cassell's Universal Portrait Gallery (1895), p. 185
Cassell's Universal Portrait Gallery (1895), p. 185


The West African genet’s common and scientific names -- Johnston’s genet and Genetta johnstoni -- honor Sir Henry Hamilton Johnston (June 12, 1858 – July 31, 1927), as:

  • Acquaintance of Denbigh-born Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley (January 28, 1841 – May 10, 1904);
  • Cartographer;
  • Discoverer of 100+ birds, invertebrates, mammals, and reptiles;
  • 5-foot (1.52-meter) “Tiny Giant” explorer of Africa, 1882 - 1904;
  • Linguist of Arabic, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and 30+ African languages;
  • Squeaky vocalist in Thomas Alva Edison’s (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931) first made-in-Africa cylinder recordings;
  • Wildlife painter and photographer;
  • Writer of The Story of My Life and 60+ other books.

Genet originates from Arabic. Jarnait references a beautiful, graceful, intelligent, quick, taciturn, tameable wild animal.


Genets epitomize connotations of Arabic word, Jarnait, from which old French genette derives: a tameable wild animal with beauty, grace, intelligence, quickness, and taciturnity.

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


Updated information on behavior, bio-geography, genetics, and physique favors the existence of 14 – 17 genet species. Scientists identify Genetta piscivora (fish-eating genet) as the only aquatic species. They indicate as non-aquatics:

  • G. abyssinica (Abyssinian genet);
  • G. angolensis (miombo genet);
  • G. bourloni (Bourlon’s genet);
  • G. cristata (crested genet);
  • G. genetta (common Eurasian small-spotted genet);
  • G. johnstoni (Johnston’s genet);
  • G. maculata (rusty-spotted panther genet);
  • G. pardina (pardine genet);
  • G. poensis (king genet);
  • G. servalina (servaline genet);
  • G. thierryi (Thierry’s haussa genet);
  • G. tigrina (blotched large-spotted Cape genet);
  • G. victoriae (giant genet).

They investigate as additional non-aquatics Muséum national d'histoire naturelle scientist Philippe Gaubert’s proposed species:

  • G. felina (small-spotted South African genet);
  • G. letabae (sand-colored genet);
  • G. schoutedeni (Schouteden’s genet).


Thierry's Genets (Genetta thierryi) claim overlapping bio-geographies with Johnston's Genets.

Zoological and Botanical Garden, Plzeň (Pilsen), western Bohemia, central Czech Republic
Zoological and Botanical Garden, Plzeň (Pilsen), western Bohemia, central Czech Republic


Bourlon’s, Johnston’s, king, pardine, and Thierry’s genets claim overlapping bio-geographies. Johnston’s genets indeed co-habit:

  • Mixed savannahs and woodlands with pardine and Thierry’s genets;
  • Rainforests with Bourlon’s, king, and pardine genets.

But they do not adapt to:

  • The brush-grass savannahs of Thierry’s genets;
  • The dry savannahs and forest-savannah mosaics of pardine genets.


First sighting of Johnston´s Genet in Senegal ~ The Jane Goodall Institute present the first sighting of a Johnston's Genet in Senegal, through a camera-trap video recorded on April 2011 in Dindefelo Community Reserve.

Published on YouTube on July 18, 2012 by Nerea Ruiz de Azua ~ URL:


Their bio-geographies nevertheless may extend 248.55 miles (400 kilometers) westward and 372.82 miles (600+ kilometers) eastward than historically suspected because of tolerances for:

  • Poor-draining swamp forests dominated by mangrove-style (AcrostichumAvicennaConocarpusLagunculariaRhizophora) prop-root trees and raffia palms (Raphia);
  • Riverine and secondary-growth forests and woodlands.

They indeed tolerate primary-growth alternatives within monthly ambient contexts of:

  • 8.63-inch (219.22-millimeter) precipitation;
  • 52.57-inch (1,335.21-millimeter) evapo-transpiration;
  • 76.41°F (24.67°C) in temperature.


R.I. Pocock, Report upon a Small Collection of Mammalia (1907), Plate LIV, opp. p. 1037
R.I. Pocock, Report upon a Small Collection of Mammalia (1907), Plate LIV, opp. p. 1037


The four sympatric (same-ranging) genets are distinguishable by:

  • Bourlon’s genets claiming darkened -- not dark-and-light -- lower tails;
  • King genet tails following super-thin light bands with super-wide dark;
  • Pardine genet tails looking super-thick;  
  • Thierry’s genets showcasing super-big ears.

Johnston’s genet has:

  • Black- to red-brown spots forming 2 horizontal lines on both sides of dark mid-dorsal striping running from shoulders to tail tip;
  • Dark cheeks, lower limbs, and paws;
  • Dark-haired central depressions per each forepaw’s sole;
  • Darkened,  large chin-band and outer back-sides of spotted upper limbs;
  • 7 – 9 bright tail bands less than 20% wider than 7 – 9 dark, with final darkened ring pale-tufted;
  • Light inner ears, lower eye-rings, and mouth.

The under- and upper-coloring is yellow-brown to yellow-grey.


Johnston's Genets' landscape: Hills near Kamabai Rock Shelter, prehistoric site in Northern Province, Sierra Leone

rainy season, 1968: photo by John Harvey Atherton, archaeologist and anthropology professor
rainy season, 1968: photo by John Harvey Atherton, archaeologist and anthropology professor

Conclusion: Long hiding in plain sight, Johnston's Genets confront survival challenges and allow mammalogists rare glimpses, thanks to a live capture in 2000.


Damaged skins and skulls exist at:

  • American Natural History Museum;
  • British Natural History Museum;
  • Humboldt-Museum;
  • Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique;
  • Muséum national d’histoire naturelle;
  • Naturalis Biodiversity Center;
  • Smithsonian National Natural History Museum;
  • Zoologisches Forschungsinstitut und Museum Alexander Koenig.

Mature specimens -- including Dr. Dunham’s dead male and live female recovered near Taï National Park’s Institut d’écologie tropicale station -- indicate:

  • Dentition: 12 incisors, 4 canines, 16 premolars, 8 molars;
  • Head-and-body lengths: 15.75 – 20.47 inches (40 – 52 centimeters);
  • Tail lengths: 15.75 – 21.26 inches (40 – 54 centimeters;
  • Tail-hair lengths: 0.79 – 1.18 inches (20 – 30 millimeters);
  • Weights: 6.61 pounds (3 kilograms).

But Johnston’s genets need governmental protection and scientific research to survive:

  • Over-agro-industrializing;
  • Over-hunting;
  • Over-mining;
  • Over-warming climate change.


Johnston's Genet landscape: diamond-rich Sierra Leone, especially Eastern Province's Kono District, largest diamond producer in Sierra Leone

diamond mine in Sierra Leone
diamond mine in Sierra Leone



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


Johnston's Genet landscape ~ environs of Elmina on Ghana's southern coast:

capital of Komenda/Edina/Eguafo/Abirem District in Ghana's Central Region and site of first European settlement in West Africa
Cityscape with harbor from Elmina Castle: São Jorge da Mina Castle, built in 1482 by Portugese captain and nobleman Diogo de Azambuja (born Montemor-o-Velho, 1432; died 1518)
Cityscape with harbor from Elmina Castle: São Jorge da Mina Castle, built in 1482 by Portugese captain and nobleman Diogo de Az...

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Johnston's Genet landscape: Man, market town in Dix-Huit Montagnes ("18 Mountains") Region, west central Côte d'Ivoire ~

Waterfall "La Cascade" near Man, Ivory Coast during the dry season
Waterfall "La Cascade" near Man, Ivory Coast during the dry season
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

Mask of the Daan People of East Liberia, Guinea and West Ivory Coast, Africalocation 39

Johnston's Genets' human synecology
Mask of the Daan People of East Liberia, Guinea and West Ivory Coast, Africalocation 39

Jungle Eyes: Green t-shirt

As with all jungle cats, Johnston's Genets and other genets observe, quietly and invisibly, happenings and visitors from behind the screen of foliage and trees in forests and rainforests.
Jungle Eyes
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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 01/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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