A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World
The Asiatic Golden Pardofelis temmincki is a cat of many costumes. Sturdily built with fairly long legs, they are medium sized, with fox-red to gold-brown, black, brown or grey fur. Melanistic examples are not uncommon. The moderate length, dense coat is generally unmarked, but those cats in the more northerly regions often exhibit spots and stripes that closely resemble the markings of the Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis. The most conspicuous features of this cat are the white lines bordered with black running across the cheeks, and from the inner corners of the eyes up to the crown. As with most cats, the underside and inner legs are white, and there is a white patch on the underside of the last part of the long tail, which is roughly 1/2 to 1/3 of the total body length. The backs of the short, rounded ears are black, with a whitish central area, and the eyes are usually greyish green or amber.
The Golden Cat is a nocturnal forest dweller, preferring sub-tropical and tropical evergreen forest, but they occasionally frequent more open areas with rocky tracts. In parts of China they are known as the ‘rock cat’. They are found from Nepal and northeast India through Southeast Asia, China, Thailand, Malaysia and Sumatra, but not on the island of Borneo.
In a protected area in Sumatra, all records were from lowland forest, with none from the montane forest where Clouded Leopards Neofelis nebulosa and Marbled Cats Pardofelais marmorata are found. Hill forests of India also contain Clouded Leopards and Marbled Cats, but no Asiatic Golden Cats.
Camera trap photos of both the spotted form and the more common reddish coat have been taken at 3,730 metres in Bhutan dwarf shrubs and grassland, setting a record for high altitude sightings. In 2009, camera trap photos in Nepal obtained the first-ever picture of a melanistic Golden Cat in the wild.
During a field study in Thailand, one adult female had a home range of 32.6 km2, which was overlapped 78% by a male’s range of 47.7 km2. Asiatic Golden Cat ranges were 20% larger than those of the Clouded Leopard, although the two cats were similar in activity and distance travelled.
The Asian Golden Cat is one of the least studied cats in tropical Asia, and little is known of their ecology.
Activity levels of two radio collared cats in Thailand were found to be diurnal and crepuscular, although some camera trap photos were obtained at night.
The Asian species was once thought to be closely related to the African Golden Cat Profelis aurata although the two are separated by more than 6,400 kilometres. Recent genetic analysis however, has determined they are not closely related, in spite of the many physical similarities.
Although Asiatic Golden Cats can climb well, they spend most of their time on the ground, carrying their long tail curled up at the tip. They are reported by tribesmen in Thailand to have their young in the hollow of a tree.
After a gestation of 75 – 80 days, one to three kittens are born, weighing approximately 250 grams. Their eyes open at around nine days, and they are weaned at six months. Kittens have longer, thicker coats than the adults, but show no pattern. They are slightly darker than the adults. This attractive Asian carnivore has in the past been fairly common in European zoos, although their reproductive rate was not particularly good. Worldwide, there are less than a dozen in zoos, with only four or five females in breeding situations. There is a high incidence of females being killed by their mates, even in well established pairs. Maximum longevity has been reported at 20 years.
Although they are reported to be decreasing in India and Indonesia, no factual information is known of their overall status in the wild.
Major threats include hunting for their pelt and bones. Their meat is considered a delicacy and the whole animal is often roasted on a spit. They are known to prey on poultry, sheep and goats, and it is for this reason that the cats are actively hunted by the villagers.
Local tribal people in Bangladesh traditionally hunt and trap Asiatic Golden Cats. With the extreme rarity of the Tiger Panthera tigris and the Leopard Panthera pardus in the area, people now look to the lesser cats as sources of meat. Their meat is believed to have special ingredients to increase strength and vigour, as carnivores are strong hunters of other animals.
The Asiatic Golden Cat is classed as Near Threatened (2008) due to habitat loss, illegal hunting and depletion of their natural prey base.
Asiatic Golden Cats have long been known in Myanmar and Thailand as ‘fire cats’. Legend says that carrying one hair will give the bearer protection from tigers, or burning the pelt will drive tigers away from the village. Their bones are sometimes ground into a powder to be given to children for fevers.