Profelis aurataAfrican golden cat

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Geographic Range

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. ("Cat Survival Trust", 2002; Alderton, 1993; Hall-Martin and Bosman, 1998; "Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan: Wild Cats", 1996; Ray and Sunquist, 2001; Sleeper, 1995; Sogbohossou, et al., 2010)

Habitat

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. ("Cat Survival Trust", 2002; Alderton, 1993; Hall-Martin and Bosman, 1998; "Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan: Wild Cats", 1996; Sleeper, 1995)

  • Range elevation
    3600 (high) m
    11811.02 (high) ft

Physical Description

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. ("Cat Survival Trust", 2002; Alderton, 1993; Hall-Martin and Bosman, 1998; "Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan: Wild Cats", 1996; Ray and Sunquist, 2001; Sleeper, 1995)

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. ("Cat Survival Trust", 2002; Alderton, 1993; Hall-Martin and Bosman, 1998; "Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan: Wild Cats", 1996; Ray and Sunquist, 2001; Sleeper, 1995)

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. ("Cat Survival Trust", 2002; Alderton, 1993; Hall-Martin and Bosman, 1998)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    3.5 to 18 kg
    7.71 to 39.65 lb
  • Range length
    61 to 101.5 cm
    24.02 to 39.96 in

Reproduction

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. (Hall-Martin and Bosman, 1998)

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. (Alderton, 1993)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 3
  • Average number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
    2
    AnAge
  • 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

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. ("Cat Survival Trust", 2002; Hall-Martin and Bosman, 1998; Leyhausen, 1979; Tonkin and Kohler, 1978)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

On average African golden cats live around 15 years in captivity. Their lifespan in the wild is currently unknown. ("Cat Survival Trust", 2002)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    15 years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    21 (high) years
    AnAge

Behavior

African golden cats are elusive animals and have proven very difficult to study. They are solitary animals. On one occasion, however, two members of the species were observed traveling together, indicating either monogamous sexual pairing or a young family group. Hunting strategies of African golden cats have also been debated. Many researchers believe that African golden cats are primarily nocturnal hunters, although they have been observed hunting at both dawn and dusk and in some cases during the day. Due to their relative shyness around humans, little research has been conducted on African golden cats in the wild. ("Cat Survival Trust", 2002; Alderton, 1993; Hall-Martin and Bosman, 1998; "Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan: Wild Cats", 1996)

Home Range

Little information is currently known regarding the home range and territory of African golden cats.

Communication and Perception

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. ("Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan: Wild Cats", 1996; Leyhausen, 1979)

Food Habits

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. ("Cat Survival Trust", 2002; Alderton, 1993; Hall-Martin and Bosman, 1998; "Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan: Wild Cats", 1996; Leyhausen, 1979; Ray and Sunquist, 2001)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • fish
  • carrion

Predation

African golden cats are preyed upon by leopards, and they tend to avoid inhabiting areas with populations of leopards. (Sogbohossou, et al., 2010)

Ecosystem Roles

African golden cats are important predators in the forest, preying on a variety of animals. They also serve as prey to leopards.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

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. (Alderton, 1993; Sogbohossou, et al., 2010)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

African golden cats have been cited as a 'poultry' pest, feeding on domestic animals such as chickens, goats and sheep. ("Cat Survival Trust", 2002; Alderton, 1993; "Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan: Wild Cats", 1996)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

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. ("Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan: Wild Cats", 1996; Sogbohossou, et al., 2010)

Other Comments

It was previously thought that African golden cats and Asian golden cats (Profelis temmincki) were closely related. Recent evidence has placed them in different genera. Molecular work has shown that African golden cats could also be placed in the genera Caracal, along with Caracal caracal. ("Cat Survival Trust", 2002; Hall-Martin and Bosman, 1998; "Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan: Wild Cats", 1996)

Contributors

Sam Beadle (author), University of Oregon, Stephen Frost (editor), University of Oregon, Gail McCormick (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Glossary

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

piscivore

an animal that mainly eats fish

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scavenger

an animal that mainly eats dead animals

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 1996. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan: Wild Cats. Switzerland: IUCN.

2002. "Cat Survival Trust" (On-line). Accessed November 09, 2010 at http://www.catsurvivaltrust.org/.

Alderton, D. 1993. Wild Cats of the World. New York: Facts on File.

Hall-Martin, A., P. Bosman. 1998. Cats of Africa. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Leyhausen, P. 1979. Cat Behavior: The Predatory and Social Behavior of Domestic and Wild Cats. New York: Garland Publishing.

Ray, J., M. Sunquist. 2001. Trophic Relations in a Community of African Rainforest Carnivores. Oecologia, 127: 395-408. Accessed October 14, 2010 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4222944.

Sleeper, B. 1995. Wild Cats of the World. New York: Crown Publisher.

Sogbohossou, E., C. Breitenmoser-Wursten, P. Henschel. 2010. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed October 12, 2010 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/18306/0.

Tonkin, B., E. Kohler. 1978. Breeding of the African golden cat, Felis (Profelis) aurata, in captivity. International Zoo Yearbook, 18: 145-150.