Genet Rides Piggyback on Rhinos and Buffaloes

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Genets are cat-like carnivores found throughout Africa, with some found in parts of Europe and the Middle East. Genets are roughly 20 inches long (excluding the tail) and weigh about two kilograms (4.5 pounds), which makes them a target for larger carnivores like lions or leopards. These animals typically avoid predators by taking to the trees and getting out of reach, but camera traps in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in South Africa have shown that genets may have come up with an alternative method of escape: riding on the backs of larger animals

Conservationists analyzing the images obtained from the camera traps first noticed a genet riding on the back of a buffalo at the end of August. While there are many different species that live together for various reasons, genets typically live alone and have never been associated with larger animals. The buffalo did not appear to like the guest, and images showed it moving back and forth, seemingly trying to shake it off. Not to be discouraged, the genet quickly found another buffalo who didn’t seem to mind the hitchhiker. Later on the same evening, the genet also hopped on top of a rhinoceros. 

Genets have fur with spotting patterns unique to the individual, so the conservationists were able to verify that it was the same genet in each photo. They were also able to identify the genet on the back of the rhino a handful of other times following the initial wild ride. Sounds lovely, right? Well, that’s where things started to get tricky.

On September 19, the conservationists revealed that camera traps snapped a picture of the genet with the buffalo, while the rhino walks up and approaches the duo. Uh-oh, busted! You can spot the genet hiding behind the buffalo’s front left leg, which could be the wildlife equivalent of “this isn’t what it looks like!” However, a couple nights later, the genet was spotted again with the buffalo, and the rhino was nowhere to be found.

Conservationists at Wildlife ACT have set up a Twitter account for this spunky little genet, whom they have named Genet Jackson. Be sure to follow the account and see if the genet will stay loyal to the buffalo, or if he will return to the rhino.

What hasn’t been made immediately clear is why any of the animals involved are engaging in this behavior. The images don’t show any predators posing imminent danger to the genet, so it might not be purely for protection. One idea is that the large animals flush out rodents (which make up the majority of the genet’s diet) and insects from the grass, and riding on the larger animal’s back gives a nice vantage point to go after the prey. This is the only known genet to utilize larger animals, but more camera traps could indicate if this sort of behavior is common, or if Genet Jackson is an extremely unique and clever individual.

[Hat tip: Smithsonian Science]

[All images credited to:]

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