Asian and African Golden Cats: Facts and Pictures
Beautiful Wild Cats
Golden cats are beautiful, medium-sized wild cats that live in Asia and Africa. Unfortunately, their populations are classified as near threatened or vulnerable. The Asian or Asiatic golden cat lives in forests of Southeast Asia. The African golden cat lives in the rainforests of Central and Western Africa.
The cats are often golden in color, which gives them their name, but they may have red-brown, dark brown, grey, or even black fur. The fur often has spots and stripes of a different color as well. Although the two species look quite similar to each other, there are actually many differences between them and they aren't closely related. Their biological classification reflects this fact. Their common names are quite similar, but the two animals belong to different genera.
African golden cats are very reclusive animals. Most sightings are either of dead animals or of animals filmed by camera traps. Little is known about the animals' lives beyond very basic information. No cats are kept in captivity at the moment, although a few have been in the past.
Asian golden cats are reclusive, but scientists know more about them they do about the African cat. Some Asian cats live in captivity, where they can be photographed and studied. Much more needs to be discovered about their lives in the wild, however.
Like house cats, golden cats belong to the family Felidae. The family contains many species. The members of the family are often referred to by the general name "cat".
Asian or Asiatic Golden Cat Classification
The Asian or Asiatic golden cat is sometimes known as Temminck's cat after the Dutch biologist Coenraad Temminck. He was the first person to describe the animal to western scientists. The animal is referred to by two scientific names: Catopuma temminckii and Pardofelis temminckii. The first name is more common today.
Different subspecies of the cat exist, but they've varied over time. The scientific name of the Tibetan golden cat shown in the video above is an example of the change. The animal was once classified as Catopuma temminckii tristis. This subspecies is no longer recognized by many scientists. The Tibetan golden cat has been incorporated into the Catopuma temminckii moormensis subspecies, which is described below.
The Cat Specialist Group of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) made a new recommendation in 2017. The group says that only two subspecies of the Asian golden cat should be recognized: Catopuma temminckii temminckii in Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula and Catopuma temminckii moormensis in Nepal, Burma, China, Tibet, and Southeast Asia.
Physical Features of the Animal
Asian golden cats are about two to three times larger than a large house cat. Although their fur is generally golden or red-brown, the coat has a surprising variety of color and pattern variations. This has contributed to the disagreements about subspecies identification. In China, there is a heavily spotted form that resembles an ocelot. This form has also been seen in Bhutan. Grey and black forms also exist.
Based on observations made so far, all of the cats have white or cream lines on their faces, even if their coat is plain and lacks spots. Many have black spots and stripes on a white background on their throat and chest.
The Life of an Asian Golden Cat
Asian golden cats are solitary animals in the wild. They are found in a variety of dry and moist forest types, including deciduous and evergreen forests and tropical rainforests. They've also been seen in areas with shrubs, on grassland, and even in open, rocky areas. They generally live a secretive life in the forest, however.
The cats can climb trees but usually hunt on the ground. They feed on rodents, birds, reptiles, and small deer. They are good hunters and can catch animals that are bigger than themselves.
It was once thought that the cats were nocturnal. With the aid of radio-collars attached to two animals, scientists have found that they may be active during the day or the night.
Asian golden cats can produce a wide variety of sounds, including growls, hisses, gurgles. and purrs. They also communicate with other cats by marking their territory with urine and with chemicals from scent glands on their paws and face. Scent is released as an animal scratches and as it rubs its head against objects.
Asian golden cats produce their kittens in a burrow on the ground or in a hollow tree. Most of the details about the cats' reproduction has been obtained from captive animals. The animals may behave differently in the wild.
In captivity, the cats breed at any time of the year. The females are ready to breed at between 18 and 24 months of age. Males are sexually mature when they are about two years old. After a gestation period of around eighty-one days, between one and three kittens are born. Usually only one baby is born, however. The youngsters are weaned when they are six months old.
In the wild, the Asian golden cat has been seen in the following countries:
- Northeast India
- Lao PDR (Laos)
Since the golden cat population is in trouble in the wild, one goal of keeping the Asian species in captivity—at least at reputable organizations—is to produce kittens. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to get the cats to breed because they are very aggressive towards each other. There have been some deaths after introducing males and females and some parents have killed their kittens.
On April 17th, 2013, a captive Asian golden cat gave birth to a male and female kitten after artificial insemination. This process hadn't been used in golden cats before. The birth took place at Allwetter Zoo in Munster, Germany. The mother took care of the male kitten, but since she was ignoring the female this baby was hand-reared. The siblings were allowed to play together indoors while their mother was in the outdoor enclosure. The knowledge gained in the creation and care of these kittens may be very useful in the future.
Golden Cat Vital Statistics
Asian Golden Cat
African Golden Cat
Head and body length of 26 to 41 inches
Head and body length of 24 to 40 inches
Up to 22 inches at the shoulder
Up to 20 inches at the shoulder
25 to 35 pounds
24 to 30 pounds
Up to 20 years in captivity
Up to 12 years in captivity (based on limited data)
The African Golden Cat
An African golden cat is about twice the size of a large domestic cat. Like the Asian species, it's known by two scientific names. One is Caracal aurata and the other, which is less common today, is Profelis aurata.
The cats have a variety of colors. They are often golden or orange-red but may be red-brown, grey, or black. Their face appears to lack the white lines of the Asian cat, or at least the lines aren't as distinct. The animal has a small head in relation to the size of its body. The belly has dark blotches on a light background.
African golden cats are solitary and territorial. They are thought to mark their territory as the Asian cats do. The African cats seem to be mainly nocturnal, but they have been seen hunting during the day. They live in tropical rainforests of Equatorial Africa.
Analysis of feces suggests that rodents are the main component of the cats' diet. They also catch other prey, including birds, small monkeys, and duikers (a type of antelope).
The gestation period of the African golden cat is (apparently) 73 days to 78 days. One or two babies are born in a hidden den. The kittens appear to be weaned between the ages of three and four months. Females may reach reproductive maturity at around eleven months of age and males at around eighteen months. The data related to reproduction came from a captive pair who had multiple litters.
An Elusive Animal and a Camera Trap
Many of the photos and videos of the African golden cat have been obtained by an organization called Panthera. The goal of this organization is to save the wild cat populations of the world. It has set up camera traps in areas that are believed to be frequented by golden cats and has obtained some interesting results.
A camera "trap" doesn't hurt animals; it's simply a place where a camera is triggered to take photos or film without human input. A trap may use a motion sensor, an infrared sensor, or a light beam to trigger the camera when something moves in front of it. The footage that's obtained is valuable for scientists and for the public. The videos of the African golden cat enable us to see what the animal looks like and observe some of its behavior.
The following symbols are used in the IUCN Red List.
LC: Least Concern
NT: Near Threatened
CR: Critically Endangered
EW: Extinct in the Wild
Population Status of Golden Cats
The population of the Asian golden cat is classified as Near Threatened on the Red List established by the IUCN. The list categorizes animals according to their nearness to extinction. The African golden cat is classified in the Vulnerable category. Its situation is considered to be more serious than that of the Asian cat. It's hard to get an accurate population count for the animals since they usually avoid the presence of humans, but all the signs indicate that their numbers are decreasing.
The forests in which the cats live are being destroyed and fragmented to provide land for agriculture. This is thought to be the main reason for the cats' population decline, as it is for many other animals. Fragmentation is dangerous for a population if animals are unable to travel between the "islands" of habitat. It can isolate the animals, preventing mating or reducing diversity and genetic vigor in a population.
The Asian cat is suffering from both habitat destruction and heavy hunting for its gorgeous fur. It's also hunted for its bones, which are valuable in traditional Chinese medicine. The cat is legally protected in much of its range, but illegal hunting occurs. Both the Asian and the African cats are sometimes killed because they attack domestic animals such as chicken, goats, and sheep.
It's interesting that even in this day and age there are still large animals that are mysterious. Losing the beautiful African and Asian golden cats would be very sad, especially before we've got to know them properly.
- A revised taxonomy of the Felidae (PDF document) from the Cat Specialist Group of the IUCN
- Asian golden cat information from the International Society for Endangered Cats
- Facts about Catopuma temminckii from the IUCN Red List
- Successful zoo breeding of the Asiatic golden cat from Scientific American
- African golden cat facts from the International Society for Endangered Cats
- Information about a camera trap film of the African species from The Guardian newspaper
- Information about Caracal aurata from the IUCN Red List
Questions & Answers
© 2013 Linda Crampton