Two nights ago I played a long and challenging game of hide-and-go-seek with a small-spotted genet (Genetta genetta). Genets are common at Mpala, though very elusive animals, in an instant vanishing into the darkness. They are small and nocturnal, highly attuned to visual and auditory disturbances. Because of this, I had gotten very poor quality observations of genets, but for some reason this time it was a different story. Initially I spotted the genet climbing up a tree, almost completely obscured by eight meters of dense acacia thorns. I struggled to see the genet lick itself clean much like a cat, with its bright eyeshine flickering intermittently. I waited about fifteen minutes to see if the genet might do any interesting behaviors, and it eventually descended to the ground, moving behind a circular arrangement of stones. As soon as I took a single light step, the genet stood up on its hind legs like a mongoose, peering at me curiously from above the rocks before vanishing again. I kept circling the stones cautiously, losing hope of seeing my new friend again for a few minutes until the genet popped up in another position.
This repeated over and over and quickly escalated into a game. The genet would lock eyes with me, scurry off to another patch of vegetation, and I would have to walk all the way around to the other side and peer around the corner hoping to catch a glimpse. While the genet navigated silently and skillfully through the brush, I had to put in so much effort to minimize the sound of my feet against the dry leaves, afraid that a single sound would spook the animal off for good. Not only that, I had the constant problem of getting snagged on the wicked acacia trees, by far the most restraining and incapacitating thing I have ever dealt with in the field. After an hour or so had passed, I became more aware of the paths the genet chose to sneak through, and I began to observe more of what exactly it was doing. The genet would put its nose to the ground, appearing to track the scent of prey. Occasionally I saw it pounce and put the side of its mouth against the ground to chew up something in a canine-like manner. I couldn’t see exactly what it was eating, but several times I saw a horrified gecko fling itself across the leaf litter.
After thirty more minutes passed, the genet became much more curious of my presence and lost some of its timidity. It began to expose itself more and more, peeking out from gaps in the vegetation and revealing itself for a split second longer each time. The genet eventually began to walk straight towards me, nose up in the air desperate to figure out my scent. Every time it looked at me, I could not move a muscle. Simply adjusting my arm in the slightest triggered a retreat. Many times it would catch me in between steps, and I would have to maintain the most awkward positions, resisting any loss of balance or trembling. What was initially a distance of eight meters between us dwindled into four or three. And finally, a handful of times the genet displayed itself just two meters in front of me. After two hours, these were the moments I had worked so hard for. I began to pick out all of the minute details of the genet with my naked eye: its whiskers, pinkish ears, golden irises, spotted coat, and fluffy ringed tail. Even at such a close distance I couldn’t hear a single sound from its footsteps. Its stealth, agility, and precision were astounding, especially coming from a comparatively clumsy “large” human like myself. And then, just like that, the genet was gone. To have such prolonged interaction time with such a stunning wild feliform meant so much to me, and I can only hope that the genet might frequent that area again in future nights.
Genets, along with civets, belong to the family viverridae and are most closely related to hyenas and mongooses. All of these taxa belong to the feliform suborder, making them the outgroup to the cat family. While observing this genet, I thought of how cat-like its mannerisms were, but every time it turned around its unusual appearance struck me. It was almost as if throwing a raccoon’s snout, a serval’s ears, and a ring-tailed lemur’s tail on the body of an oncilla. When running around its gait also reminded me of a mongoose: head forward, tail horizontally erect, and the body held close to the ground almost concealing the legs. At Mpala we have two species of genet, the small-spotted genet (Genetta genetta) and the blotched genet (Genetta maculata), most easily differentiated by their tail pattern. They are crepuscular and nocturnal, foraging on a variety of small prey and sometimes fruits.
Photographed and filmed after pursuit  unless otherwise stated