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Laila Bahaa-el-din: The Golden cat of Gabon

Laila is a conservation biologist studying the elusive and little known Golden cat. She studied at the University of Nottingham and with the Tropical Biology Association in Uganda. Laila also has experience working with Cheetah in Kenya, primates in Costa Rica and more.

Name: Laila Bahaa-el-din

Species: Golden Cat

Location: Gabon

Twitter: @AfricaGoldenCat

Laila is a conservation biologist studying the elusive and little known Golden cat. She studied at the University of Nottingham and with the Tropical Biology Association in Uganda. Laila also has experience working with Cheetah in Kenya, primates in Costa Rica and more.

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Research Site:

My research is based in central Gabon where human population density is low and most of the region is covered by mature lowland semi-evergreen rainforest. Two large national parks (Lopé and Ivindo) are located within this forest landscape, while forests outside these parks are to a large extent gazetted as logging concession areas.

Target Species:

The African golden cat is Africa’s only forest-dependent felid and survives mostly on mammalian prey, notably rodents and small antelopes. What little is known about this species is largely anecdotal, but what is clear is that current trends of deforestation and bushmeat hunting are causing a severe reduction in their range, and the IUCN has classified them as Near Threatened.

There is an urgent need to find out more about their ecology and behaviour to help us understand exactly how these human activities are affecting golden cats and put measures in place to mitigate these threats and conserve this species.

ABOVE: Manix and Laila take a rest whilst working out in the forest.
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NatureSpy is a non-profit organisation that aims to research and protect wildlife whilst engaging local communities, primarily using camera traps. NatureSpy supports Discover Conservation. Find out more...
"If you are using camera traps, as in my case, make sure you have some extra ones as elephants do sometimes destroy them."

Highlights:

The best thing about working in this environment, apart from being able to study this secretive and elusive species and contribute to its conservation and that of its habitat, would have to be the permanent sense of excitement of walking through an African rainforest. At any time, you could bump into an elephant or a buffalo, a troop of gorillas, chimps or mandrills, spot an eagle or if you’re very lucky, a leopard, golden cat or pangolin.

Challenges:

There are two things that are particularly tough about living and working in the rainforest environment. Firstly, is constantly being eaten by insects, which give you persistent irritation, spread diseases or both. Secondly, elephants; people have varying degrees of nervousness around elephants, but in the forest, I find the best policy is to avoid them. They are smart, fast and incredibly strong and my pulse always quickens when they are close.

There is one other thing (but I couldn’t call it a challenge – more like a mild frustration), and that is that I have not and may never see an African golden cat with my own eyes. But that is not so much related to the environment as my choice of study species.

TOP & BOTTOM: A camera trap set by Panthera Kaplan scholar Laila Bahaa-el-din took these photographs of an African golden cat. Recently, cameras set by Laila in Gabon filmed the first video footage of a wild, living African golden cat. Creative commons images, more information.
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Top Tips for research in this environment:

1) Humidity is a big issue in the rainforest, so silica gel and silicon sealant could be your best friends, as could watertight containers for keeping equipment dry.

2) If you are using camera traps, as in my case, make sure you have some extra ones as elephants do sometimes destroy them. Also, make sure there are no entry points (even rubber seals) that termites could use to enter the cameras.

3) Covering your skin, particularly at dawn and dusk, may seem a nuisance in this hot environment, but it will save you a lot of misery in terms of insect bites. Always sleep with a mosquito net.

4) Keep all your senses alert at all times, particularly your hearing and smell as sight is restricted in the forest. If you detect a potentially dangerous animal nearby, go quietly, give it a wide berth and avoid alerting it to your presence.

5) Always be with someone who knows the forest well. They will not only keep you from getting lost, but will also know how to read the animals you come across. They can tell you when it is safe to stick around for a photo, or when it is time to make a hasty retreat.

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