African golden cat

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African golden cat
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Caracal
(Gray, 1843)
Species: C. aurata
Binomial name
Caracal aurata
(Temminck, 1827)
  • C. a. aurata
  • C. a. celidogaster

(but see text)

Distribution P. aurata.svg
  Distribution of the African golden cat
  Possible range or accidental records
  • Profelis aurata[2]

The African golden cat (Caracal aurata) is a wild cat distributed in the rainforests of West and Central Africa, and has been categorized as Vulnerable by IUCN.[1] Its body size ranges from 61 to 101 cm (24 to 40 in), with a tail length of 16 to 46 cm (6.3 to 18.1 in).[3] It is a close relative of both the caracal and the serval.[4] Previously, it was placed in the genus Profelis.[2]


African golden cat pelts

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.[3][5]

The African golden cat has variable fur color, ranging from chestnut or reddish-brown, greyish brown to dark slaty. Some are spotted, with the spotting ranging from faded tan to heavy black in color. In others the spotting pattern is limited to the belly and inner legs. Its undersides and areas around the eyes, cheeks, chin, and throat are lighter in color to almost white. Its tail is darker on the top and either heavily banded, lightly banded, or plain, ending in a black tip. 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.[6] 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.[3]

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.[7]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

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.[3]

Ecology and behavior[edit]

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.[3]

African golden cats are able to climb, but hunt primarily on the ground. They mainly feed on tree hyrax, rodents, but also hunt birds, small monkeys, duikers, young of giant forest hog, and small antelope. They have also been known to take domestic poultry and livestock.[6][3]


Knowledge of the African golden cat's reproductive habits is based on captive specimens. They breed readily in captivity.[citation needed] 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.[3]

These cats live up to 12 years in captivity, but their lifespan in the wild is unknown.[3]


The African golden cat is threatened by extensive deforestation of tropical rainforests, their conversion to oil palm plantations coupled with mining activities and road building, thus destroying its essential habitat. It is also threatened by bushmeat hunting, particularly in the Congo Basin.[1]


The African golden cat is listed in CITES Appendix II.[1] Hunting African golden cats is prohibited in Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. In Gabon, Liberia and Togo, hunting regulations are in place.[8]

Taxonomic history[edit]


The African golden cat was first described by Temminck on the basis of mounted cats from western Africa available for sale at a London museum. Temminck named a reddish brown colored skin with faint spots Felis aurata and a greyish skin Felis celidogaster that was spotted all over with dark blotches and a red tail. Subsequently, a brownish grey skin from Sierra Leone was described as Felis neglecta; a chestnut colored skin as Felis rutilus; a dark grey skin as Felis chrysothrix cottoni; a black skin from eastern Congo as Felis maka.[9]

Some authors recognize aurata and cottoni as valid subspecies.[2][10] This classification combines allopatric populations in aurata, while treating parapatric ones as distinct. Other authors consider the supposed cottoni a semi-melanistic color morph because of the red/grey polymorphism and due to uncertainties about the type localities. Individuals resembling cottoni have been found all over the African golden cat's range in particularly humid habitats, and individuals in captivity have even been observed to change skin color between the typical red and dusky grey morphs as they shed their fur.[11]

Other authors refer to celidogaster instead of cottoni, restricting the supposed aurata subspecies to the east of the Congo River, and celidogaster to the west of the Cross River, Gambia and Gabun.[9][11][12]

The African golden cat resembles the Asian golden cat. However, results of genetic analysis suggests that the two are not closely related.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d Bahaa-el-din, L., Mills, D., Hunter, L. & Henschel, P. (2015). "Caracal aurata". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
  2. ^ a b c Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 544. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Sunquist, M.; Sunquist, F. (2002). Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 246–251. ISBN 0-226-77999-8. 
  4. ^ Johnson, W. E.; Eizirik, E.; Pecon-Slattery, J.; Murphy, W. J.; Antunes, A.; Teeling, E.; O’Brien, S. J. "The Late Miocene Radiation of Modern Felidae: A Genetic Assessment". Science 311: 73–77. 
  5. ^ Burnie, D, and Wilson, D. E. (Eds.) (2005). Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. DK Adult, ISBN 0789477645
  6. ^ a b Guggisberg, C. A. W. (1975). Wild Cats of the world. Taplinger Pub. Co., New York.
  7. ^ Macdonald, D. W. (2009). D. W. Macdonald, ed. The Princeton encyclopedia of mammals. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press. p. 655. ISBN 978-0-691-14069-8. 
  8. ^ Nowell, K. and Jackson, P. (1996). Wild Cats: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland.
  9. ^ a b Mensch, P. J. A. v., Bree, P. J. H. v. (1969). On the African Golden Cat, Profelis aurata (Temminck, 1827). Biologia Gabonica V(4): 235–269.
  10. ^ Allen, G. M. (1939). A checklist of African mammals. Vol. 83. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College.
  11. ^ a b Pocock, R. I. (1907). Notes upon some African Species of the Genus Felis, based upon specimens recently exhibited in the Society Gardens. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 77 (3): 656–677.
  12. ^ Butynski, T. M., Douglas-Dufresne, H., and de Jong, Y. A. (2012). Identification, distribution and conservation status of the African golden cat Caracal aurata in Kenya. Journal of East African Natural History 101(1): 3–16.
  13. ^ Macdonald, D and Loveridge, A. (2010). The Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-923444-8

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