The mystery of Madagascar's forest cats

A forest cat is seen on a camera trap in Madagascar's Bezà Mahafaly Special Reserve.

(CNN)Madagascar is home to many unique species, including a variety of lemurs. But there's one species living in the island's forests that scientists hadn't quite been able to figure out until now: cats.

University of Colorado at Boulder anthropology professor Michelle Sauther has been studying primates and lemurs on the island nation in the Indian Ocean for 30 years. And during that time, she's seen a lot of cats in the forests.
But cats aren't native to Madagascar, which is one of the world's largest islands.
    "When I first started working in Madagascar, I noticed that these cats all seemed to look the same," Sauther said. "They were big, and they were always the same color."
    They're known as the "forest cats" of Madagascar, sharing straight tails and a "mackerel" tabby coloring that blends well with the forest. They also look different than the village cats that people keep as pets on the island.
    Local populations use various names in their languages to call them "ampaha," which translates to "cat run wild," or "kary" or "saka kary," both of which also suggest "wild cat."