The geographic range of African golden cats, Profelis aurata, spans across equatorial Africa. They inhabit areas ranging from the Savanna woodlands of western Sierra Leone to the primary forested regions of central Africa and as far East as Kenya. The Congo River provides a natural geographic barrier dividing the two subspecies.
Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )
African golden cats are robust animals with short, stocky limbs adept for arboreal hunting. They have a semi-complete postorbital closure and small anterior premolars. African golden cats range from 3 to 18 kg in weight. Males often weigh between 11 and 14 kg. Adults range from 61 to 102 cm in length excluding the tail. Males tend to be longer, averaging 74 cm, whereas females average around 71 cm in length. Their tail ranges from 16 to 46 cm in length, with males averaging 31 cm and females 30 cm. The height of African golden cats from their shoulder to the ground ranges between 40 and 50 cm.
The coloration of African golden cats can vary dramatically, and their coats range from bright orange to reddish-brown. Some cats grayish in color have also been observed. Some individuals have spots on their coat. There are also some melanistic and all-black individuals. The outsides of their ears are generally dark in color. White spots are common above the eyes. The neck and throat can be lighter in color and are sometimes white. The tail has a dark tip and a white line on the dorsal side usually surrounded by dark spots. The coat of one individual in the London Zoo changed from brownish red to gray in 4 months, indicating that the coat of African golden cats may be variable throughout their lifetime.
There are two subspecies of African golden cats, and they are slightly different in appearance. Members of the subspeices Profelis aurata celidogaster are found in the Guinean forested zone and are either entirely spotted, or spotted on the neck with large spots on the flanks. Members of the subspeices Profelis aurata aurata are found east of the Congo River and spotted on the belly or spotted on the lower flanks. In a 'hybrid' zone between Cameroon and Gabon, both spotted and unspotted individuals can be found.
Range mass: 3.5 to 18 kg.
Range length: 61 to 101.5 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Although Africa golden cats can be found in a variety of habitats, they are predominantly found in densely forested regions. They adjust well to areas affected by logging because of the region's dense secondary undergrowth, which is advantageous for camouflaged hunting. Fringe environments, such as waterways leading into savannah woodlands, are sometimes preferred habitat zones due to their dense populations of rodents. Members of this species have been recorded at elevations up to 3600 m in Uganda and the Aberdare Mountains of Kenya. Although evidence is inconclusive, African golden cats may also inhabit wet montane forest and lowland humid forests.
Range elevation: 3600 (high) m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; rainforest
Habitat and Ecology
African golden cats are carnivorous and prey on mid-sized mammals such as tree hyraxes, red duikers, smaller forest antelopes, monkeys, birds and in some cases fish. Based on scat, small species of rodents weighting less than 300 g are typically hunted. They have been recorded hunting species of monkeys, however it is speculated that they may only prey on fallen or injured monkeys. The short, stocky limbs of African golden cats offer an advantage for arboreal hunting, although this has been observed on few occasions. African golden cats often remove the feathers from bird prey, and the amount of 'plucking' is comparable to that of African lynx.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; fish; carrion
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Piscivore , Scavenger )
African golden cats are important predators in the forest, preying on a variety of animals. They also serve as prey to leopards.
African golden cats are preyed upon by leopards, and they tend to avoid inhabiting areas with populations of leopards.
- leopards Panthera pardus
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
African golden cats have been observed in captivity demonstrating threatening and aggressive behaviors. When threatened they keep their back slightly arched, while the hair on the back and tail are perpendicular. The head is kept lower than the body and is usually angled to one side. The tail curves to form a hook shape; it can whip sharply then return to original form. When African golden cats attack, they travel at a robust pace. They do not demonstrate the agitated circling behavior of Caracal, Puma, or Neofelis.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
On average African golden cats live around 15 years in captivity. Their lifespan in the wild is currently unknown.
Status: captivity: 15 years.
Status: captivity: 21 (high) years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The mating systems of African golden cats are currently unknown. There has only been a single recorded viewing of two wild individuals traveling together. While this evidence may suggest monogamous pair bonding, more evidence is required to fully understand their mating systems.
All current information regarding the breeding of African golden cats is from captive animals. Litters vary from 1 to 2 cubs, and occasionally include 3 cubs. Gestation lasts 75 to 78 days. At birth, cubs weigh 195 to 235 g. They are born blind, and they open their eyes in about 1 week. At around 2 weeks in age, they display curiosity of their surroundings and are able to climb. Weaning begins around 6 weeks of age. Males reach sexual maturity at 6 months of age, while females reach sexual maturity at 11 months.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 3.
Average number of offspring: 1 to 2.
Range gestation period: 75 to 78 days.
Average weaning age: 6 weeks.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 11 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 18 months.
Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual
Average birth mass: 248.33 g.
Average number of offspring: 2.
Little information is known regarding parental investment of African golden cats, although mothers provide care to their young for a period of time. Cubs likely do not travel until sexual maturity. In captivity, female African golden cats were observed moving 16-day-old cubs to a brighter spot near the glass, although cubs were able to move in and out of the nest of their own volition. After this move, the cats sunbathed during the day and returned to the nest at night. On one occasion, a young African golden cat was found in a hollowed out log that had fallen. This could indicate that kittens hide in holes located in trees in order to avoid predators.
Parental Investment: pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
African golden cats are classified as near threatened by the IUCN. Recent reports indicate that populations of African golden cats are decreasing due in large part to major deforestation. Hunting also plays a minor role in the depletion of the species. Hunting has been restricted in Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1994Insufficiently Known(Groombridge 1994)
African golden cats are known prey of Leopards (Henschel et al. 2005), and on a small scale avoid areas where Leopard are common (T. Gilbert in prep.). On a larger scale, in areas where Leopards have recently been extirpated, African golden cats seem to be more locally abundant (P. Henschel pers. comm.).
Key protected areas for the species include: Gola F.R. (Sierra Leone), Mount Nimba Strict N.R. (Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea), Sapo N.P. (Liberia), Taï and Comoé National Parks (Côte d'Ivoire), Gashaka Gumti N.P. (Nigeria), Korup N.P. and Dja Faunal Reserve (Cameroon), Lopé N.P. and Ivindo N.P. (Gabon), Odzala and Nouabale-Ndoki National Parks (Congo Republic) and Dzangha-Ndoki National Parks (CAR), Virunga N.P. (DR Congo), Queen Elizabeth and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks (Uganda), and Aberdares N.P. (Kenya) (Butynski and Ray in press).
There is a need for further survey work to acquire reliable population density estimates in various forest types, including disturbed habitats, in order to help better determine the population status across the range of the species.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
African golden cats have been cited as a 'poultry' pest, feeding on domestic animals such as chickens, goats and sheep.
Negative Impacts: crop pest
Although hunting is prohibited in several countries, they are hunted for their meat and pelts. Pelts may be used for circumcision practices or to wrap valuables. Some pygmy cultures place value on the tail of African golden cats, which is used to indicate a successful hunter.
Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material
African golden cat
The African golden cat (Profelis aurata) is a medium-sized wild cat distributed over the rainforests of West and Central Africa. It is about 80 cm (31 in) long, and has a tail of about 30 cm (12 in) in length. It is a close relative of both the caracal and the serval, but current classification places it as the only member of the genus Profelis.
The African golden cat has variable fur color, typically ranging from cinnamon or reddish-brown to grey, although melanistic forms also exist. It can be either spotted, with the spotting ranging from faded tan to heavy black in color, or not spotted at all. Its undersides and areas around the eyes, cheeks, chin, and throat are generally lighter in color and may be almost white. Its tail is darker on the top and may be heavily banded, lightly banded, or plain, although it always ends in a black tip. Those cats in the western parts of its range tend to have heavier spotting than those in the eastern areas. Two color morphs, a red and a grey phase, were once thought to indicate separate species, rather than variations of the same species.
The African golden cats is about twice the size of a domestic cat. Its rounded head is very small in relation to its body size. It is a heavily built cat, with stocky, long legs, a relatively short tail, and large paws. Body length usually varies within the range 61 to 101 cm (24 to 40 in). Tail length ranges from 16 to 46 cm (6.3 to 18.1 in), and shoulder height is about 38 to 55 cm (15 to 22 in). The cat weighs around 5.5 to 16 kg (12 to 35 lb), with males being larger than females.
Overall, the African golden cat resembles the caracal, but has shorter untufted ears, a longer tail, and a shorter, more rounded face. They have brown eyes and small, rounded ears. Despite the wide variation in coat color, pelts of African golden cats can be identified by the presence of a distinctive whorled ridge of fur in front of the shoulders, where the hairs change direction.
Distribution and habitat
The African golden cat inhabits tropical forests from sea level to 3,000 m (9,800 ft). It prefers dense, moist forest with heavy undergrowth, and is often found close to rivers, but it may also be found in cloud forest, bamboo forests, and high moorland habitats. The cat is found from Senegal in the west to Kenya in the east, and ranges as far north as the Central African Republic and as far south as northern Angola.
Behavior and diet
Due to its extremely reclusive habits, little is known about the behavior of African golden cats. They are solitary animals, and are normally crepuscular or nocturnal, although they have also been observed hunting during the day, depending on the availability of local prey.
The African golden cat is able to climb, but hunts primarily on the ground. It mainly feeds on rodents, but also includes birds, small monkeys, duikers, giant forest hog piglets, and small antelope in its diet. These cats have also been known to take domestic poultry and livestock.
Knowledge of the African golden cat's reproductive habits is based on captive specimens. They breed readily in captivity. The mother gives birth to one or two kittens after a gestation period of around 75 days. The kittens weigh 180 to 235 g (6.3 to 8.3 oz), but grow and develop rapidly in comparison with other small cat species. One individual was reported to be scaling a 40-cm wall within 16 days of birth, reflecting a high degree of physical agility from an early age. The kittens' eyes open within a week of birth, and they are weaned at 6–8 weeks. Females reach sexual maturity at 11 months of age, but the males do not do so until 18 months.
These cats live up to 12 years in captivity, but their lifespan in the wild is unknown.
The subspecies of African golden cat are:
- P. a. aurata - from Congo to Uganda
- P. a. celidogaster - throughout Western Africa
Each of the subspecies has two distinct spotting patterns. P. a. aurata can either have spots just on its lower body, or no spots at all except a few indistinct spots on the belly. P. a. celidogaster can either be spotted all over, or have a few spots on the back and neck with a few large spots on the sides of the body.
Some sources list P. a. cottoni instead of P. a. celidogaster. In this arrangement, all populations are included in the nominate, with the supposed second subspecies restricted to the rainforests of easternmost Congo and Uganda, but this is based on a 1939 study and lumps allopatric populations in the nominate, while treating parapatric ones as distinct, which is not very reasonable biogeographically. Thus, subsequent authors usually considered the supposed P. a. cottoni a semimelanistic color morph, and recognized an allopatric division between the subspecies as listed above. This confusion is mainly due to the red/grey polymorphism mentioned above, as well as uncertainties about the type localities. In any case, individuals resembling P. a. "cottoni" have been found all over the species' range in particularly humid habitats, and individuals in captivity have even been observed to change coat color between the "typical" (red) morph and dusky grey as they shed their fur.
The African golden cat is superficially similar to the Asian golden cat, However, genetic analysis has determined they are not closely related. Its closest relatives are the caracal (Caracal caracal) and serval (Leptailurus serval), while the Asian golden cat (Pardofelis temminckii) belongs to the genus Pardofelis.
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