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Spotted: Ultra-rare cat species captured on camera in Borneo

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The bay cat, or Bornean marble cat, has only been recorded on video a handful of times before and was only first photographed in 2003. (Oliver Wearn / SAFE Project)

Several rare and endangered bay cats were spotted on camera in a heavily logged section of rainforest in Borneo, where scientists didn't expect to find them, a group of researchers announced yesterday.

The bay cat, or Bornean marbled cat, has only been recorded on video a handful of times before and was only first photographed in 2003, according to a release from the Zoological Society of London and Imperial College London, whose scientists set up the cameras.

In the same area where the bay cats were found, in the northern Borneo, cameras also captured four other cat species, making it one of only four spots where all of these species have been recorded.

The four other cat species were the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi), leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps) and marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata). Three out of four of these species are considered vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

"We were completely surprised to see so many bay cats at these sites in Borneo where natural forests have been so heavily logged for the timber trade," said Robert Ewers, an Imperial College London researcher, in the statement. [Watch: Cameras Spot Rare Bay Cats in Borneo]

Very little is known about Borneo bay cats because they are shy and have low population densities, according to the IUCN. However, scientists estimate there are fewer than 2,500 adults remaining in the wild, and that their population will decline by 20 percent in the next 12 years due to deforestation in Borneo, the IUCN reported.

Unlike other camera traps that are often set up at strategic locations, these were placed at random locations, which apparently helped to spot the endangered cats.

"We discovered that randomly placed cameras have a big influence on the species recorded," said Oliver Wearn, a researcher at the Zoological Society of London. "This is something I was taught in school I remember doing a project on which plant species were most abundant on our playing field, and being taught to fling quadrats [a geometric tool used to define a study area] over my shoulder in a random direction before seeing what plants lay within it, rather than placing it somewhere that looked like a good place to put it the same principle applies here."