Search for the Common Genet (Genetta genetta) in Southern France

Spotted elegance

The Common Genet (Genetta genetta) is a gracious mammal. In Europe this mesocarnivore exists in certain areas in Spain, Portugal and in Southern France. The species prefers warmer habitat with thickets and rocky terrain and water bodies in the vicinity. In southwest Europe it is often found in dense Maquis or Garrigue vegetation in the valleys of streams, rivers, lakes and near reservoirs. Alpine areas appear to be avoided, although it does occur in the higher Pyrenees.

The sleek and spotted genet is about about the size of a slim domestic cat, but is actually a member of the Civets (Viverridae). It is a proto-cat, with semi-retractable claws and with other physical as well as behavioural similarities to felids. Like most cats it also lives a solitary life, with males occupying large territories with several females defended within. There is also differention in spatial exploitations between the sexes.

Temperate habitat of the Common Genet along the Liort stream in Departement Aveyron, Southern France.

In ancient times Genets were kept as pets, and still are occassionally today, being affectionate and easily house-trained animals. They were used to curtail mice and rats around the household. However they are not native to southwest Europe, but were introduced from a northwest African (Maghreb) population, perhaps during Roman times. In the last decades genets have been recorded in several areas in Southern France and are possibly expanding further east- and northward into Europe, perhaps facilitated by climate change (warming) but possibly hindered by landscape barriers like for example the river Rhône. The genet lives on small mammals (especially rodents like wood mice and squirrels), birds, herpetofauna and arthropods (including insects and crayfish), with an occasional supplement of fruits and berries (e.g. figs). It is active during the night and during the day it rests in tree hollows, rock hollows or occasionally in old abandoned buildings. More about the Genet.

Above: Bycatch in the Aveyron cameratrap session: a male Pine Marten Martes martes in de Liort stream Valley near Villefranche-de Rouergue in southern France)

A cryptic species

Erwin van Maanen and Fokko Bilijam (Rewilding Foundation and Projectgroup Marten Research IJsselvallei) went in search of the Common Genet and other mesocarnivores  in two areas in southern France, namely in Departement Aveyron in the Midi-Pyrénées, and further southeast in the warmer Departement La Gard, north of Avignon. In the areas where it occurs it often lives unnoticed by people, so that cameratraps where deployed to detect it in the most likely places.

First fleeting image of a Common Genet Genetta genetta in the Liort stream valley, Aveyron, France, 29 July 2012.

The first cameratrapping session of 1,5 week took place in the valleys of the river Aveyron (near the hamlet of Rignac) and the stream Le Liort (just south of Villefranche-de Rouergue). These study areas are located in glowing hilly landscape with reasonably conserved cultural elements and relatively little change in landuse since the Middle Ages. The landschap is a mosaic of small temperate (Sub-Atlantic) forests interspersed with meadows, arable land and old villages. More information in Dutch.

Habitat of the Common Genet Genetta genetta in dense riparian forest (left) and Garrigue-vegetation and on rocky terrain (right) along the river La Cèze, north of Avignon in southern France.

The second search (als 1,5 weeks) took place along the river La Cèze near the town of Goudargues, north of Avignon. The terrain here is also hilly, but more semi-arid and rougher terrain, consisting of eroded limestone valleys with thickets of thorny vegetation (including Maquis and even denser Garrigue). The landscape is also composed of  arable lands, vine yards en old villages.

First cameratrap recording of a genet(Genetta genetta) at a waterhole in thick Garrigue vegetation on bank of the rivier de La Cèze.

Approach

In total eight cameratraps were deployed (4 Scoutguards SG550 and 4 Bushnell’s) to capture mammals on digital film and photo. The cameratraps were placed along animal tracks and on sandy steep banks of the river in riparian forest, next to entrance ways made by the introduced and now common Coypu (Myocastor coypus) and beaver (Castor fiber). Canned sardines and fish oil were used as lure, placed in a “tea egg” hung from a branch.

Above: Full film capture of a Common Genet on the bank of the river La Cèze near Avignon in Southern France.

Results and discussion

In the Aveyron along the stream Liort the following mammals were recorded: 3 pine martens, 1 Stone or Beech marten (Martes foina), 1 badger (Meles meles), 1 genet, 1 wild boar en 1 roe deer. The first capture of a Genet was a glimpse of one animal in the Liort stream valley, just recognizable by its long striped tail.

The genet came into full view on the banks of the river La Cèze, with the capture of two individuals together with images of 2 red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), 3 badgers, a family of stone martens, 1 feral cat, 1 roe deer, several wild boars, coypu, wood mice and a red squirrel. Badgers were found to be common in all three  study areas, and seemed to summer feed often on grapes in the more arid study area near Avignon. No pine martens were recorded in this habitat.

Typical cumulative latrine of a Genet, showing a diverse summer diet of mice (dark lead coloured scats) and fruits (light coloured scats filled with seeds).

We also found the typical latrine of  a Genet near de river La Cèze, consisting of a cumulation of middle-finger sized scats deposited on noticable places like a stone wall or next to a tree stump  (see picture above), as described in the literature.

Bycatch along the river La Cèze, north of Avignon in southern France.: left to right a  family of stone marten (Martes foina), badger (Meles meles) and a juvenile red fox (Vulpes vulpes).

Indeed we encountered genets in dense riparian riparian forest and Garrigue shrub of Mediterranean France, as well as less dense temperate forest like in the Avignon, in the Midi-Pyrénées; a total of three individuals. According to knowledgeable local people, the Genet is not often encountered, being almost strictly nocturnal and living in dense vegetation. Nevertheless, other accounts and the recording of three Genets in two small study areas in Southern France in this short study indicate that the Common Genet is fairly common in Southern France, but with local occurrence according to habitat suitability. It is regarded as a naturalised subspecies (Genetta genetta rhodanica, Matschie 1902) and has been granted full protection.

Above: Recording of a badger (Meles meles) in the Liort stream valley near Villefranche-de Rouergue in southern France. The badger is a common mesocarnivore in France.

Remarkable is the recorded coexistence of the Genet with two morphological and ecological similar mesocarnivores, namely the pine marten and stone marten. In theory they compete for exactly the same food and dens, yet in reality they appear to co-exist well, although encounters with each other are on the err of caution (see cameratrap film from Internet below). This may be due to differences in exploitation of available food resources (read more thoughts on this issue). Productivity of the ecosystem is probably also a determining factor for co-existence of mesocarnivores with overlapping ecological niches.

Above: Interaction between a pine marten and Genet in Spain (source: El show de Ángel)

Thanks to:

Herman Rol of Camping Moulin de Liort and the foundation Les Amis du Moulin de Liort and Erwin of Camping Les Libellules.

By Erwin van Maanen (The Rewilding Foundation)