Leighton's Linsangs (Poiana leightoni): Ringtails of Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Sierra Leone

by DerdriuMarriner

Being rare can coincide with being costly, mysterious, and special. But it also has the chance of going extinct. That may be the case with Leighton’s linsangs in West Africa.

Coca-Cola originally comes from mixing such ingredients as:
• Carbonated water;
• Coca leaf extract;
• Kola nut extract;
• Sugar.

Any attempt at reconstructing the drink’s original recipe depends upon access to western South America’s blackthorn-like coca bush (Erythroxlum) and West Africa’s mallow-like kola tree (Cola).
• Fortunately for coca and kola aficionados, scientists do not consider either woody plant rare in its native range.
• Fortuitously for both plants’ admirers, coca bushes and kola trees exhibit no inhibitions at flourishing as garden- and house-plants as long as tropical-like conditions of heat, light, moisture, and soil can be met.

The good news impacts local as well as worldwide audiences since the kola nut is the favorite food of Leighton’s West African linsang.

Leighton's linsangs favor Cola nitida nuts:

local common names in Liberia for Cola nitida include tohn and we-eh.
Cola nitida
Cola nitida


The world’s known animals typically answer to two kinds of names. The common name belongs within the experience of non-scientists and scientists. The scientific name -- which also is called the binomial (“two-name”), Latin or taxonomic name -- bespeaks the influence of scientific communities. In the case of Leighton’s linsang, for example, the common designation can be one of the following:

  • Leighton’s linsang;
  • Leighton’s oyan;
  • West African linsang;
  • West African oyan.

The less accurate designation linsang comes from the Javanese name for carnivorous, tree-dwelling mammals in Southeast Asia. But it continues to be used alongside the more accurate term oyan. Oyan is the localism encountered by Catholic missionary/Father G.L. Bates along Equatorial Guinea's Benito River in 1898.


John Edward Gray is believed to have established genus name of Poiana.

John Edward Gray
John Edward Gray


The scientific community accepts as the current classificatory name for Leighton’s linsang Poiana leightoni. The origins of the genus name are shrouded most unscientifically in mystery. But a convincing explanation can be offered for the choice of name in 1864 by John Edward Gray (February 12, 1800 – March 7, 1875), as:

  • Walsall-born British zoologist London-trained in medicine;
  • Zoology keeper at London’s British Museum, 1840 – 1874;
  • Zoology-related cataloguer and collector of insects, mammals, molluscs, and reptiles;
  • Zoology-related publisher of 1,000+ papers, from 1821 onward.

Some specialists in the history of science connect the genus name with the location of a specimen’s first known-to-Europe discovery, on Fernando Pó (Bioko) Island off the south Atlantic coast of modern Equatorial Guinea.


Leighton's Linsang (Poiana leightoni) range (green - extant, pink - probably extant)

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


The origins of the species name are not in doubt. Current identification continues the choice in 1908 by Reginald Innes Pocock (March 4, 1863 – August 9, 1947), as:

  • Clifton-born British zoologist specializing in comparative anatomy, biology, and geology;
  • Invertebrate specialist in charge of arachnid (“spider”), myriapod (“10,000 legs”), and ornithological (“bird”) collections at London’s Natural History Museum, 1886 – 1904;
  • Superintendent of the London Zoo, 1904 – 1923.

It honors the British Museum-destined collection of Liberian Rubber Company businessman Leonard Leighton whose wife was the first white woman -- in 1908 -- to cross Liberia. Its description memorializes a forefeet-less, headless, skull-less specimen from 14.91 – 19.88 miles (24 – 32 kilometers) west of the:

  • Cavalla and Duobe rivers;
  • Putu Mountains.  


Sightings and specimens of Leighton’s linsang are rare. They cluster around:

  • Guinea-Onakry, perhaps at the Kounounkan Massif;
  • Ivory Coast at Gagnoa, Mont Sângbé National Park, and Nzi-Alakro;
  • Liberia at Biple, Bongle, Deaple, Duotown, Igua, Siamonrovia, and Tappita as well as between Bao Town and Mali, between Bia and Zwedru, and perhaps within Sapo National Park;
  • Sierra Leone, perhaps at the Gola Rainforest National Park.

The known location of specimens confirms the existence of Leighton’s linsang as part of the wildlife native to dense, even canopies in Upper Guinea’s moist-broadleaf, old-growth, and primary tropical rainforests. This Upper Guinean bio-geography of amazing faunal and floral diversity draws such natural enemies to Leighton’s linsang as predatory mammals, raptors, and reptiles.


Prince Demidoff's bushbaby (Galagoides demidovii), also known as Dwarf Bushbaby, inhabits Liberia's Sapo National Park, a biodiversity hotspot in Upper Guinean forest ecosystem and homeland for Leighton's linsangs ~

illustration by Joseph Wolf (January 21, 1820 – April 20, 1899)
William Peters, Note on the Galago demidoffii of Fischer (1863), Plate XXXV, opp. p. 380
William Peters, Note on the Galago demidoffii of Fischer (1863), Plate XXXV, opp. p. 380


Scientists attribute the paucity of sightings and specimens to the West African linsang’s:

  • Sacredness, since coats are used in medicine bags of “exceptional properties and worth” (Rosevear, p. 224);
  • Savviness, since collection is non-existent by museums and zoos;
  • Scarcity, since territorial range is super-isolated from Richardson’s linsang (Poiana richardsonii) and super-restricted.

But predator-avoidance benefits from the habits and look of Leighton’s linsang. For example, Leighton’s linsang commit to:

  • Building quickly and inhabiting briefly a series of leafy nests accommodating several bodies 6.56+ feet (2+ meters) above-ground;
  • Consuming insects, kola-nuts, plant parts, and young birds;
  • Delivering 2 newborns per yearly litter;
  • Employing quick, quiet digitigrade (“on digits”) locomotion balanced by a tail which also serves as a blanket.


Poiana richardsonii: similarities influenced former classification of Leighton's linsang as subspecies of African linsang

Taxidermied African Linsang (Poiana richardsonii) at the Natural History Museum in London.
Taxidermied African Linsang (Poiana richardsonii) at the Natural History Museum in London.


African linsangs appear similar. But Richardson’s linsang (Poiana richardsonii) claims:

  • Black, small spots;
  • Dull red-brown upper-sides;
  • Off-white under-sides;
  • 12 – 14 darkly “parallel-margined” Rosevear p. 228) tail rings.

Leighton’s linsang contrasts pristine-white under-parts with:

  • Angularly-outlined, super-black, small spots;
  • Brightly-buffed upper-parts;
  • Darkly unbroken spinal line;
  • 10 – 12 dark, “chevron-shaped” (Rosevear, p. 225) tail rings.

Bristle and super-soft hairs respectively grow to:

  • 0.47 (12) and 0.39 inches (10 millimeters) and 0.52 – 0.59 (13 – 15) and 0.39 – 0.43 inches (10 – 11 millimeters) on the respective bodies and heads of Leighton’s and Richardson’s linsangs;
  • 0.39 - 0.43 (10 – 11) and 0.28 – 0.35 inches (7 – 9 millimeters) on both linsangs’ tails.

Cylindrically-tapered guard-hairs grow 0.35 inches (15 millimeters) long on both linsangs’ tails.


skin of Poiana leightoni under former scientific name Genetta richardsonii liberiensis

R.I. Pocock, Report Upon a Small Collection of Mammalia (1907), Plate LIV, Figure 3
R.I. Pocock, Report Upon a Small Collection of Mammalia (1907), Plate LIV, Figure 3

Conclusion: Leighton's linsangs' ever-changing world, from subspecies to its own species amidst environmental challenges and village hunters


Leighton’s linsang claims as defensive adaptations:

  • Anal scent glands;
  • 5 retractile-clawed digits per paw;
  • The lower jaw’s 6 incisors, 1 canine, 8 premolars, and 4 molars;
  • The upper jaw’s 6 incisors, 2 canines, 8 premolars, and 2 molars.

But fast fore-limbs and longer hind-limbs carry maximally-estimated:

  • Head-and-body lengths: 11.81 – 14.96 inches (300 – 380 millimeters);
  • Tail lengths: 13.78 – 15.75 inches (350 – 400 millimeters);
  • Weights: 17.64 – 24.69 ounces (500 - 700 grams).

Self-defense may or may not suffice in sustaining Leighton’s linsangs in the interfaces between:

  • Banana-, cocoa-, coffee-, livestock-, oil palm-, rice-, and sugarcane-oriented agro-industrialists;
  • Bushmeat- and pelt-seeking villagers;
  • Globally-warming climate change.

But protected areas, scientific research, and visitor support always weight sustainability in favor of endangered species.


Water Chevrotain (Hyemoschus aquaticus), under synonym Dorcatherium aquaticum: reclusive, solitary water loving ruminants range across Leighton linsang homelands in Sapo National Park and in Putu Mountains ~

despite being a protected species in Liberia, water chevrotains sometimes are hunted for bushmeat, a similar concern for Leighton linsangs.
Sir Harry Johnston, Liberia (1906), Vol. II, opp. p. 726
Sir Harry Johnston, Liberia (1906), Vol. II, opp. p. 726



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.



White-crested hornbill (Tropicranus albocristatus), also known as Monkey Bird, under synonym Ortholophus leucolophus:

its wide range across Central and Western Africa includes Leighton linsang homelands in the Ivory Coast and Liberia.
Sir Harry Johnston, Liberia (1906), Vol. II, opp. p. 780
Sir Harry Johnston, Liberia (1906), Vol. II, opp. p. 780

Sources Consulted

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Allen, J.A. (Joel Asaph). 1922 - 1925. "Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition." Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. XLVII: 73 - 282. Retrieved on April 18, 2014.

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Allen, William, and T.R.H. Thomson. 1968. A Narrative of the Expedition Sent by Her Majesty's Government to the River Niger in 1841 under the Command of Captain H.D. Trotter. In two volumes. Volume I. First edition: 1848; new impression: 1968. London: Frank Cass and Company Ltd. Retrieved on April 18, 2014.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/narrativeofexped01alle

Allen, William, and T.R.H. Thomson. 1968. A Narrative of the Expedition Sent by Her Majesty's Government to the River Niger in 1841 under the Command of Captain H.D. Trotter. In two volumes. Volume I. First edition: 1848; new impression: 1968. London: Frank Cass and Company Ltd. Retrieved on April 18, 2014.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/narrativeofexped02alle

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  • Available at: http://www.liberianfaunaflora.org/FFI/Home.aspx

Ford, Martin. 1992. "Kola Production and Settlement Mobility among the Dan of Nimba, Liberia." African Economic History, No. 20: 51-63.

Hunt, Robert M., Jr. 2001. "Basicranial Anatomy of the Living Linsangs Prionodon and Poiana (Mammalia, Carnivora, Viverridae), with Comments on the Early Evolution of Aeluroid Carnivorans."American Museum Novitates, No. 3330 (April 26, 2001): 1 - 24.

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Pocock, R.I. 26 November 1907. "Report upon a Small Collection of Mammalia Brought from Liberia by Mr. Leonard Leighton." Proceedings of the General Meetings for Scientific Business of the Zoological Society of London 1043-1047. Retrieved on April 18, 2014.

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Pygmy Hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis or Hexaprotodon liberiensis), under synonym Hippopotamus liberiensis:

endangered hippopotamid, native primarily to Liberia, may be found in Sapo National Park, a safe haven for Leighton's linsang as well.
Sir Harry Johnston, Liberia (1906), Vol. II, opp. p. 716
Sir Harry Johnston, Liberia (1906), Vol. II, opp. p. 716
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Pygmy Hippopotamus with young: photo by M. Watson

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

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

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
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


DerdriuMarriner on 05/06/2014

VioletteRose, Thank you! Leighton's linsangs and their synecological faunal and floral coterie are wonderfully photogenic.

VioletteRose on 05/05/2014

Interesting species, the pictures look really great!

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