The African golden cat (Profelis aurata) has striking similarity to Asian golden cat (Pardofelis temminckii, syn. Catopuma temminckii), but they are not closely related. The resemblance between the two species is probably due to convergent evolution in similar habitats. African golden cat is a close relative of both caracal and the serval, but current classification places it as the only member of the genus Profelis.
African golden cats are heavily built cats with large paws and stocky, long legs. Their tail has distinctive dark central line, besides being darker on the top. It may be heavily banded, lightly banded, or plain, although it always ends in a brown or black tip. Approximately twice the size of a domestic cat, their rounded head is quite small in relation to the size of the body. Ears, which are small and rounded, are darkly colored. They have variable fur color, typically ranging from cinnamon or reddish-brown to grey, although melanistic forms also exist. Body markings can vary from spotted to non-spotted. Spots can range from faded tan to heavy black. Cats found in the western parts of the range usually have more spots than those in the eastern areas. Feline’s undersides, cheeks, chin; areas around the eyes and throat are generally lighter in color and may be almost white. Two color morphs, a red and a grey phase, were once thought to indicate separate species, rather than variations of the same species.
The length of the body measures from 60 to 102 cm (24 to 40 in) and tail ranges from 16 to 46 cm (6.3 to 18 in). Shoulder height is approximately 38 to 55 cm (15 to 22 in), while the weight varies from 5.5 to 16 kg (12 to 35 lb). Males are larger than females.
African golden cat is found in the tropical rainforests of West and Central Africa — 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. Usually inhabiting from sea level to 3,000 meters (9,800 ft), they have also been recorded at elevations up to 3600m in Uganda and the Aberdare Mountains of Kenya. These cats prefer moist and dense forest with heavy undergrowth. Often living in the vicinity of rivers, it may also be found in bamboo and cloud forests, also known as fog forests, and also in high moorland habitats. They are equally comfortable in savannah grasslands, tropical dry forests and the secondary growth that occurs in logged areas where they get advantage of camouflaged hunting. This has allowed it to adapt to human disturbances.
Behavior and diet
Little is known about the behavior of this cat as it leads quite a reclusive life. Another factor that makes their study difficult is that they are mostly active during night or twilight — dawn and dusk. They have also been observed hunting during the day, depending on the availability of prey.
Like leopards African golden cats are also expert tree climbers, but they prefer hunting primarily on the ground. Their diet primarily constitutes rodents, small monkeys, birds, giant forest hogs and even small antelopes such as duikers. They are also notorious for taking domestic poultry and livestock.
While they are generally solitary animals, they possess a wide range of vocalizations that suggest some social interactions.
Whatever knowledge we have today about the reproductive habits of African golden cat is based entirely on captive animals. They are easy to breed in captivity. One or two kittens are born after a gestation period of around 75 days. They weigh 185 to 250 grams at birth and grow rapidly compared to other small cat species. Kittens are born blind, their eyes open within a week of birth and they are weaned at 6–8 weeks. Females reach sexual maturity by the time they are eleven months old, for males this period is about eighteen months. These cats live up to twelve years in captivity, but their lifespan in the wild is unknown.
There are two subspecies of African golden cat:
- Profelis aurata celidogaster – throughout Western Africa
- Profelis aurata aurata – from Congo to Uganda
Both the subspecies have two distinct spotting patterns. For instance, P.a.celidogastercan either has spots all over, or have a few spots on the back and neck with a few large spots on the sides of the body. 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.
The lack of information about the biology and ecology of Profelis aurata makes it difficult to accurately assess its situation. Because of the destruction of its primary habitat it is considered at risk, but more data is required.