King Genets (Genetta poensis): Ringtails in Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Liberia

by DerdriuMarriner

Bioko Island belongs to the Central African country called Equatorial Guinea. It counts among the few islands known to host genets. Bioko is where Europeans first met king genets.

As part of the king genet’s homeland, Bioko constitutes one of the island regions that join a mainland region to form the present-day West African country of Equatorial Guinea. It emerges as the coastally closest of four picturesque islands that location-wise form a broken straight line and that owe their existence to the Cameroon volcanic line.

The Cameroon line exists as a geological anomaly in extending through both continental and ocean crusts. It is responsible for the beautiful fauna and flora protected by the bio-geographic isolation of four volcanic islands in or off the Gulf of Guinea:
•Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe’s two main islands;
•Republic of Equatorial Guinea’s Annobón and Bioko Islands.

Geologically anomalous Cameroon line's extension into Gulf of Guinea as expressed in four volcanic islands: Pagalu (or Annobón), São Tomé, Príncipe and Bioko.

Also, two large seamounts (ocean seafloor mountains peaking below sea level) lie between Bioko and Principe and between Principle and São Tomé and Príncipe.
Map of Gulf of Guinea, showing chain of islands -- including Bioko -- formed by Cameroon line of volcanoes.
Map of Gulf of Guinea, showing chain of islands -- including Bioko -- formed by Cameroon line of volcanoes.


Bioko accepts as native wildlife king genets. Niches other than on Equatorial Guinea’s main island attract king genets to:

  • Congo  Republic;
  • Ghana;
  • Ivory Coast;
  • Liberia.

But scientists confer special roles to Bioko for:

  • Hosting  disjunct (bio-geographically disconnected) king genets;
  • Providing the holotype (specimen warranting species status).



Bioko’s uniqueness is memorialized in the king genet’s binomial (“two-name”), Latin, scientific, or taxonomic identification in 1838 by George Robert Waterhouse (March 6, 1810 – January 21, 1888), as:

  • Somers Town-born child of an amateur entomologist employed in solicitor’s clerkships;
  • Vale of Heath garden design apprentice to English publisher Charles Knight’s (March 15, 1791 – March 9, 1873) architect;
  • Royal Institution at Liverpool, Zoological Society of London, and British Natural History Museum curator.


In 1838, at age 28, George Robert Waterhouse, curator of Zoological Society of London, is credited with first description of Genetta poensis.

1851 portrait by Thomas Herbert Maguire (1821 – 1895); lithograph by M & N Hanhart
1851 portrait by Thomas Herbert Maguire (1821 – 1895); lithograph by M & N Hanhart


Genetta poensis acts as the currently official classification for the king genet. The genus name Genetta arises from scientific attempts to modernize Latin. It comes from the French invention of the designation genette from the original word jarnait. Historical records apparently do not preserve forms more ancient than the above-mentioned Arabic term even though genets approximated cats in their status as beloved pets in Pharaonic Egypt.  “Invented,” modern Latin likewise explains the species name. Poensis honors one of the two names given by Europeans to the modern Bioko:

  • Formosa Flora (“Beautiful Flower”) is the name given by the island’s European discoverer, Fernão do Pó, in 1472;
  • Fernando Pó is the name given by Portuguese settlers in 1494.


Genetta pardina: In his description of Genetta poensis, G.R. Waterhouse noted, despite a "nearest affinity" with G. pardina, that:

"This species [Genetta poensis] ... is distinguished from all the African species with which I am acquainted, by its deep rich yellow-brown colouring, and by the great number of dark markings and spots with which its body is adorned." (pp. 59-60)
I.G. Saint-Hilaire, " G. panthérine G. pardina Is. Geoff." Magasin de Zoologie, deuxième année (1832), Classe I, Plate 8: Oudet, sculpt; Finot, imprimeur
I.G. Saint-Hilaire, " G. panthérine G. pardina Is. Geoff." Magasin de Zoologie, deuxième année (1832), Classe I, Plate 8: Oudet...


Bourlon’s (Genetta bourloni), rusty-spotted panther (G. maculata), and servaline (G. servalina) genets also appear on the list of Equatorial Guinea’s natives even though king and pardine (G. pardina) genets are related more closely. The term sympatric (“same-ranging”) indeed can be applied to six genets whose homelands overlap entirely or partially with the king’s sub-Saharan African bio-geography. All six echo the king genet’s predilection for dense rainforests. But they also find other habitats suitable.

  • Dry savannahs harbor rusty-spotted panther genets.
  • Forest-savannah  mosaics and woodland savannahs house Bourlon’s, Johnston’s (G. johnstoni), pardine, rusty-spotted panther, Schouteden’s (G. schoutedeni), and servaline genets.
  • Moist mixed woodland savannahs lure Bourlon’s genets.
  • Montane forests number among their native niche-dwellers Johnston’s, pardine, and Schouteden’s genets.  


Genetta poensis synecology: fauna and flora of rainforests

Umbella Tree or African Corkwood Tree (Musanga cecropioides), Mayombe (or Mayumbe) forests, southwestern Republic of Congo
Umbella Tree or African Corkwood Tree (Musanga cecropioides), Mayombe (or Mayumbe) forests, southwestern Republic of Congo


But a leonine golden yellow distinguishes the king genet. It embellishes the body, the head, and the upper limbs. It functions as a deeply rich contrast to:

  • Black, rusty, and white spots attractively and heavily marking the body and the upper limbs;
  • Black-haired soles;
  • Dark fore-limbs, inner upper rear-limbs, and paws;
  • Dark mid-dorsal line running continuously from shoulders to tail base;
  • Dark, thin chin stripe;
  • Dark-backed upper rear-limbs.

The spots merge into:

  • Fragmented horizontal lines across the upper rear-limbs;
  • Irregular, long, slender lines along the flanks.

The dark-tipped tail mixes 4 – 7 each of bright bands about 20% narrower than broad dark rings. A dark stripe longitudinally smudges the tail’s upper side continuously from base to tip.


Genetta poensis skin: gifted to British Museum by collector-rubber company businessman Leonard Leighton; originated from site 15-20 miles (24-32 km) west of Putu Mountains, southeast Liberia; skin described in 1907 by British zoologist R.I. Pocock ~

Rejecting Waterhouse's and Paul Matschie's linking G. poensis to G. pardina, Pocock likened King Genets most closely to southern Africa's G. angolensis and "Nearer still ... if not specifically identical with ..." G. genettoides (now G. pardina synonym).
R.I. Pocock, Report upon a Small Collection of Mammalia (1907), Plate LIV, Fig. 4, opp. p. 1037
R.I. Pocock, Report upon a Small Collection of Mammalia (1907), Plate LIV, Fig. 4, opp. p. 1037


The colors accord with light and shadow playing over lowland tropical rainforest vegetation. The camouflage blends with the king genet’s twining, vegetation-like, winding lines:

  • Elongated, graceful body, head, and tail;
  • Muscled, short, slender limbs.

King genet shapes indeed hold onto their agile trimness from grey-furred birth to physical and sexual maturity’s:

  • Head-and-body lengths of 16.81 – 27.17 inches (42.7 – 69 centimeters);
  • Tail lengths of 13.78 – 18.31 inches (35 – 46.5 centimeters);
  • Tail-hair lengths of 0.79 – 1.18 inches (2 – 3 centimeters);
  • Weights of 4.41 - 6.61 pounds (2 – 3 kilograms).

They make king genets look fox-faced, leopard-spotted, mongoose-legged, squirrel-ankled, and raccoon-tailed. They predict feline-reminiscent self-defenses with:

  • 12 incisors, 4 canines, 16 premolars, and 8 molars;
  • 20 curved, retractable, sharp claws.


Boskat ("forest cat") depicted in travelogue of 14 years, 1688-1702, on Ghana's gold coast by Dutch West India Company merchant Willem Bosman (12 January 1672 – ?):

R.I. Pocock viewed description of Genetta genettoides by Dutch zoologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck (March 31, 1778 – January 30, 1858), which referenced Bosman's image, as evincing nearness, if not specific identity, of G. genettoides with King Genets.
Willem Bosman, Beschrijving van de Guinese Goud-Kust (1704), Part II, Fig. 5, opp. p. 34
Willem Bosman, Beschrijving van de Guinese Goud-Kust (1704), Part II, Fig. 5, opp. p. 34


Ten king genet specimens exist in museums worldwide. The last collection has a date of 1946. So the available information is dependent upon local anecdotes, which are not forthcoming from flesh- and fur-hunting villagers. Until specifics emerge from solid research, scientists therefore hypothesize life cycles and natural histories involving:

  • Bi-annual litters of 1 – 2 offspring since females have just 1 pair of teats;
  • Dependent pre-adulthoods until ears and eyes are opened, food becomes solid, and hunting gets perfected;
  • Paired or solitary adulthoods of daytime naps, night-time forages, and rainy-season matings;
  • Conflict avoidance of predatory mammals, raptors, and reptiles;
  • Daily grooming with tongue-moistened paws;
  • No-mess-no-spill table manners;
  • Opportunistic diets of fruits, insects, and small birds, mammals, and reptiles.


Genetta poensis' human landscape:

Equatorial Guinea's capital of Malabo is located on the northern coast of the island of Bioko.
Malabo's Venus Bay
Malabo's Venus Bay

Conclusion: Can King Genets, master escape artists, continue to master their sustainable destinies despite 21st century challenges from agro-industrialism, global warming, and hunters?


Mammalogists express no immediate concerns over the sustainability of king genet populations. They find the night-tripping tree-lover sufficiently elusive in behavior and extensive in bio-geography to survive twenty-first century stresses. They know that king genets are master escape artists who appreciate extended communities with:

  • Bordering territories for same-gender neighbors and overlapping for mixed-gender;
  • Individual burrows, crevices, and hollows;
  • Off-site latrines;
  • Regular pathways.

They realize that king genet self-defenses reluctantly include:

  • Handstand-released stink-bombing;
  • Kick-boxing;
  • Neck-biting;
  • Saliva-balls;
  • Stand-up punching;
  • Wrestling takedowns.

They understand that king genets can wriggle in and out of anything at least as large as their heads. But specialists still welcome government-protected bio-geographies, scientific funding, and wildlife-loving support against:

  • Globally-warmed climate change;
  • Habitat-fragmenting agro-industrialism;
  • Population-threatening over-hunting.


21st century challenges: processing of liquified natural gas and doubling of population in Malabo

CGI view of LNG (liquified natural gas) plant operated at Malabo by EG LNG (also known as Punta Europa LNG)
CGI view of LNG (liquified natural gas) plant operated at Malabo by EG LNG (also known as Punta Europa LNG)



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


King Genets' human landscape: Fort Coenraadsburg, built by Dutch in 1652 on Dutch Gold Coast, now South Ghana

Willem Bosman, Beschrijving van de Guinese Goud-Kust. Vierde Brief (1704), Fig. 3, opp. p. 48
Willem Bosman, Beschrijving van de Guinese Goud-Kust. Vierde Brief (1704), Fig. 3, opp. p. 48

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Genetta poensis homeland:

Bioko, formerly known as Fernando Pó in honor of 15th century Portuguese navigator Fernão do Pó who discovered islands in Gulf of Guinea in 1472.
Pico Basilé, eastern coast of Bioko, western African coast: peaking at 9,882 ft (3,012 meters) as highest peak on Bioko
Pico Basilé, eastern coast of Bioko, western African coast: peaking at 9,882 ft (3,012 meters) as highest peak on Bioko
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

King Genets' faunal synecology in Republic of the Congo ~ Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) in flight over Atlantic Ocean off African coast: photo by Karl Andre Terblanche

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

Rain Forest Canopy in the South Coast Region of Bioko Island: photo by Tim Laman

Rain Forest Canopy in the South Coast Region of Bioko Island

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: 01/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 06/11/2014

VioletteRose, You're welcome. I'm happy to spotlight genets.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/11/2014

Mira, No easily accessible source explains why the king genet is so-called. The original Waterhouse description -- which I've read in its entirety -- is silent as to the reason for the common name. I must agree with you that the king genet seems very different from all the other non-aquatic genets. This puts me in the realm of speculation but the formal Waterhouse identification impresses me with the leonine-like background color and the regal implications that I interpret in the description and therefore make me think of lion, "king of beasts."

VioletteRose on 06/04/2014

Great information and excellent pictures, thanks for sharing!

Mira on 06/01/2014

I see their tail is almost black. Very different from other genets, where the lines are very clear (and more beautiful). Why is this one called the king genet, do you know? I was expecting a "king" genet to be more representative of genets in general. This one is probably the most different!

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