African golden cat
|African golden cat|
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Distribution of the African golden cat
Possible range or accidental records
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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- Species portrait African golden cat; IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group
- Rare African golden cat sightings
- Elusive golden cat caught on film in Uganda (black & white) (2009) and Gabon (colour) (2011)