Taxonomic identification of Madagascar’s free-ranging “forest cats”

Abstract

Madagascar does not have native wild felid species; however, distinct populations of free-ranging “forest cats” of unknown species are known throughout the island, including at Ankarafantsika National Park, Bezà Mahafaly Special Reserve, Makira Natural Park and the Masoala peninsula. Malagasy “forest cats” are commonly considered invasive lemur predators and competitors with endemic carnivores as well as a nuisance exotic species that kill poultry. These cats may be descendants of African wildcats, European wildcats and/or domestic cats; however, no research on their genetic origin has been published. To determine their taxonomic status, genetic data from short tandem repeat markers was assessed for three wild-caught “forest cats” from the Bezà Mahafaly Special Reserve (BMSR) and 27 “forest cats” from Ankarafantsika National Park. Bayesian analyses comparing the Malagasy “forest cats” to approximately 1900 domestic and wildcat sub-species suggest the Malagasy cats are descendents of domestic cats from the Arabian Sea region, including the islands of Lamu and Pate, Dubai, Kuwait and Oman. Additional genetic influences may descend from India and Pakistan. Combined with cultural and historical information, these data suggest that these felid populations are likely descendents from cats that immigrated to the island on trade ships, particularly along early Arab trade routes.

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Acknowledgements

Funding was provided by the University of Colorado-Boulder, Iowa State University, the Ensminger Fund, the International Primatological Society Conservation Grant, The Margot March Biodiversity Foundation, and Primate Conservation Incorporated. Funding for genetic analyses was supplied in part by the University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine Gilbreath McLorn Endowment, National Geographic Expedition Grant (EC0360-07), National Institutes of Health—National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) Grant R24 RR016094R24/OD010928, the University of California—Davis, Center for Companion Animal Health, the Winn Feline Foundation (W10-014), a gift from Illumina, Inc. (LAL), and the University of California—Davis Wildlife Health Fellowship (JDK). ISPRA support the Laboratory of Conservation Genetics for some of the European wildcats genetic data. We kindly thank all the people, particularly Julie Feinstein and the Ambrose Monell Collection at American Museum of Natural History, for the tissues and who have contributed to the collection of cat samples. We thank the members of the BMSR ecological monitoring team and Ms. Jenifer Ness for their research assistance and we thank ANGAP for their permission to conduct research at BMSR.

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Sauther, M.L., Bertolini, F., Dollar, L.J. et al. Taxonomic identification of Madagascar’s free-ranging “forest cats”. Conserv Genet 21, 443–451 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-020-01261-x

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Keywords

  • Genetics
  • Felis
  • Feline
  • Conservation
  • Diaspora
  • Non-native
  • Endangered