Other Names
chat doré africain (French)
Afrikanische Goldkatze (German)
gato dorado (Spanish)
gnaou ya zamba (Lingala: West Africa)
lobwa, ebyo, ebie (Kota, Fang, Kwele: Gabon)
embaka, ekinyange, semaguruet (Lukiga, Lukonjo, Kipsigi: East Africa)
soukalan (Mandinka)
donnou, dondou (Peul)
  • Description and Behavior

  • Biology

  • Habitat and Distribution

  • Population Status

  • Protection Status

  • Principal Threats

  • References

  • Action Planning

  • osolimi, makolili, akalwa, egabasoti, esele, a’ka (Mbuti Pygmies: Zaïre)

    Description and Behavior
    The African golden cat is a medium-sized cat. Adult males weigh 11-14 kg (Van Mensch and Van Bree 1969, S. Lahm in litt. 1993). The only recorded weight of a wild female is 6.2 kg (Van Mensch and Van Bree 1969), but this was probably an immature animal. The African golden cat has both a reddish-brown and greyish color form, and its coat can be spotted or plain. Pocock (1907a) described an animal in the London Zoo whose color changed entirely from rufous to grey in four months. Van Mensch and Van Bree (1969) examined 186 pelts from various localities and found that 50% were of the red phase and 46% of the greyish phase, with 4% being totally black. While color phase appears variable across its range, they found that specimens taken from West Africa tended to be more spotted than those from East-Central Africa, with the Zaïre River forming an approximate boundary. The white underbelly is consistently marked with large black spots. Despite a striking external similarity to the Asian golden cat, many authorities believe that the two species are not closely related (Van Mensch and Van Bree 1969, Hemmer 1978a, Wozencraft 1993; but see Figure 2 under Taxonomy). The similarity of the golden cats may have resulted from convergent evolution in moist forest habitat, as there has been no direct forest connection between Africa and Asia for 20 million years (Groves 1982), but the relationship still deserves closer examination.

    The African golden cat has never been studied and little is known of its behavior. It is reported to be primarily nocturnal and to rest in trees during the day (Rosevear 1974, Guggisberg 1975, Kingdon 1977, Happold 1987). Diurnal activity has also been noted (Kingdon 1977). It may hunt in trees to some extent (Basilio 1962, Kingdon 1977), but probably catches most of its prey on the ground (J. Hart and M. Katembo in prep.). Hart and Katembo analyzed 60 golden cat scats from Zaïre’s Ituri forest, and found that 51% contained rodents and 20% ungulates. The rodents were mostly small species weighing less than 300 g. From carcass collections, they also note that scavenged eagle kills and predation on fallen, injured primates may be an important component of rainforest felid diets.

    Hart and Katembo’s data serve to balance anecdotal reports that golden cats prey mainly on small to mid-sized mammals, including tree hyraxes, the larger rodents (Basilio 1962, Brooks 1962, Rahm and Christiaensen 1963), and smaller forest antelopes (Van Saceghem 1942, Carpaneto and Germi 1989). On the contrary, they found small rodents to be more important. Other data on diet are patchy. For example, the stomach of one golden cat from Senegal contained the remains of a bird (Gaillard 1969), and Kingdon (1977) found the remains of red duikers, monkeys, rodents and birds in scats examined from Uganda’s Bwindi National Park. M. Agnanga (in litt. 1993) includes fish in the diet. Although there have been reports of predation on domestic animals, including chickens, goats and sheep (Gyldenstolpe 1928, Bourdelle and Babault 1931, Kingdon 1977), such predation appears to be rather rare (E. Abe, M. Agnanga, B. Hoppe-Dominik, S. Lahm in litt. 1993).

    Litter size:
    According to the Mbuti Pygmies of north-eastern Zaïre, one (Carpaneto and Germi 1989). J. Hart and M. Katembo (in prep.) also found one nursing kitten in a fallen, hollow log

    No other information.

    Habitat and Distribution
    The primary habitat of the African golden cat is the moist forest zone of Equatorial Africa, including mangrove and alpine bamboo forests. Golden cats can penetrate savannah grasslands along belts of riverine forest (Van Mensch and Van Bree 1969), and so their distribution probably extends beyond the moist forest zone. As an extreme example, the species was recorded from Nioro du Sahel, Mali, in relatively arid savannah woodland (Bigourdan and Prunier 1937) -- although possibly in error (Van Mensch and Van Bree 1969).

    Golden cats apparently adapt well to logged areas, as destruction of the canopy favors the dense secondary undergrowth with which they are often associated (Kingdon 1977, Anstey 1991, S. Lahm in litt. 1993). Edge environments generally contain higher rodent densities, and may thus be preferred (J. Hart in litt. 1994). However, primary forest with minimal human disturbance is the golden cat’s fundamental habitat -- M. Agnanga (in litt. 1993) reports that it is well known in northern Congo (among the most sparsely populated regions in tropical Africa), but not in the south, where the forests are semi-deciduous and partially logged (Sayer et al. 1992). Similarly, B. Hoppe-Dominik (in litt. 1993) describes the species as common in the Ivory Coast’s Tai National Park (rainforest), but very rare in Comoe National Park (savanna woodland).

    The golden cat has been recorded at elevations up to 3,600 m in Uganda (Guggisberg 1975), and in Kenya’s Aberdare mountains (Maberly 1966, Hardy 1979, Watson 1980). Figure 2, based on van Mensch and van Bree (1969), shows the tropical rainforest of the Zaïre River basin as solid lines. Probable distribution elsewhere, including patches of wet montane forest and lowland humid forest interspersed with savanna grasslands (former rainforest: Collins 1990), is shown as dashed lines.

    Population Status
    Global: Category 2
    Regiona: Category 1
    IUCN: Insufficiently Known

    While the species is tied to moist forest habitats and is thus naturally rare, it is difficult to evaluate its conservation status due to lack of information on its biology and ecology. The moist forests of West Africa have been heavily degraded and remaining intact stands are patchily distributed, while those of the Zaïre basin in Zaïre, Congo and Gabon are relatively pristine and large tracts of primary forest remain (Myers 1989, Collins 1990, Sayer et al. 1992). However, a large portion of the latter is inland swamp forest (Sayer et al. 1992), a habitat type in which the golden cat has not yet been recorded (S. Lahm in litt. 1993).

    Small pieces of golden cat skin have totemic value "for wrapping things up in" (Van Mensch and Van Bree 1969, E. Gadsby in litt. 1991). Because of taboos, people may be reluctant to discuss the animal directly (Sanderson 1940).

    Protection Status
    Protection Status: CITES Appendix II

    National Legislation:
    Fully protected over only part of its range

    Hunting Prohibited:
    Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Zaïre

    Hunting Regulated:
    Gabon, Liberia, Togo

    No Domestic Trade Controls:
    Congo, Sierra Leone

    No Legal Protection:
    Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda

    No Information:
    Burundi, Guinea
    (IUCN Environmental Law Centre 1986; M. Agnanga, B. Hoppe-Dominik, S. Lahm in litt. 1993)

    Principal Threats
    Savannization in West Africa has probably led to population declines and fragmentation, unless there is migration along riverine corridors. The bush meat trade, which figures largely in the region’s economy, may lead to local depletion of small antelope prey. There appears to be little hunting of golden cats (E. Gadsby in litt. 1991; S. Lahm, M. Agnanga in litt. 1993).

    © 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union