Species Fact: The Asiatic Golden Cat

It’s a good world.

There are TWO golden cats out there: one in Africa and the other one that we’re going to look at today — the Asiatic golden cat.

This is the wild cat that apparently wears clown makeup.

Open Cage via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.5

Scientific name:

Catopuma temmincki. (They named it in honor of Dutch zoologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck.)


Bay cat. However, Li et al (see source list at end of post) now call this the Asiatic golden cat lineage. That term doesn’t seem to be in common usage yet, but it’s worth noting.


These are from the Cat Specialist Group website unless otherwise noted.

  • Weight: 20 to 35 pounds.
  • Height at the shoulder: 22 inches. Asiatic golden cats are 2 to 3 times as big as a house cat. (Wikipedia)
  • Body length: 28 to 41 inches.
  • Tail length: 16 to 22 inches.
  • Coat: The “makeup” is actually white lines of fur, with dark brown or black borders, that run across the cat’s cheeks, from its nose toward the cheeks, and from the inner corner of each eye and up over the head. I have yet to find a scientific paper discussing why Asiatic golden cats developed this look. Unike in tigers, this striping is limited to the face; the rest of the outer fur is usually a solid color — golden or reddish brown, grayish, or black. (However, Asian golden cats with spots or blotches, like a leopard cat or ocelot, have been seen in China and Bhutan.) Underparts are white, speckled in light gray or brown, while the underside of the tail’s tip is white. The cat often curls up this tip when walking — it may be meant as a signal that kittens can see even in dense undergrowth. (Bashir et al.; Cat Specialist Group; Dhendup; Kitchener et al., 2010; Patel et al.; Sunquist and Sunquist)
  • Vocals: Meow, purring, hiss, spitting, gurgling, and possibly other sounds. (Sunquist and Sunquist)
  • Average litter size: 1 to 3 kittens.
  • Life span: Captives have lived up to 17 years. (Sunquist and Sunquist)

    • The spotted form is usually seen in China, but there was a sighting in Bhutan not too long ago.

      Features unique to this cat:

      Facial striping — African golden cats, while similar in some ways, don’t have it.

      Outside of the big cats, Asiatic golden cats are the largest Asian wild cats (they’re a little bigger and heavier than African golden cats, too).

      Where found in the wild:

      BhagyaMani via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0)

      These animals have been seen from Tibet, Nepal, and northeastern India across southern China and Indochina, down to Sumatra (but not the other islands of this archipelago).

      Oddly, they’re not found on Borneo.

      Asiatic golden cats seem to prefer tropical and subtropical evergreen forests but have been seen in other habitats — even in grasslands and rocky areas.

      Closest cat-family relatives:

      The Asiatic golden cat’s position in the cat family tree has puzzled zoologists for almost 200 years.

      • Was it closely related to the African golden cat? As it turned out, no.
      • Was it a big cat? That’s not as illogical as it may seem because C. temmincki is almost as big as its neighbor, the clouded leopard. Early immunological and chromosomal studies seemed to indicate a link to Panthera, too (Sunquist and Sunquist). But further research ruled out this possibility.
      • What about the bay cat? They look a lot alike, and the Asiatic golden cat has never been seen on Borneo, the bay cat’s home. Perhaps this is one species, with the bay cat being the island form? This made a lot of scientific sense, but molecular studies shot it down. Bay cats and Asiatic golden cats are two different species. They are closely related, though. Along with marbled cats, they comprise the bay cat lineage.

      How Asiatic golden cats hunt and live:

      Like most cats, they use a killing bite to the nape of the prey’s neck. (Image: Jenni Douglas via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.0)

      This cat is seldom seen, and experts haven’t even been able to establish yet whether it hunts during the day or at during the twilight and nocturnal hours.

      Like most cats, Asiatic golden cats are stalk-and-ambush hunters, getting as close as possible to their prey before charging.

      While Asiatic golden cats can take down animals as large as a water buffalo calf, they’re more likely to go after smaller prey, ranging from deer down to rodents and lizards.

      Wildlife researchers are trying to learn more details about the cat’s diet and habits.

      How they reproduce:

      This is mostly a mystery, because there are very few Asiatic golden cats in zoos. Breeding them is quite a challenge. (Sunquist and Sunquist)

      Kittens weigh 8 to 9 ounces at birth. Their eyes open in 6 to 12 days, and weight triples during the firsteight weeks of life.

      This one has a ways to go yet.

      Unlike some cats with plain fur, like lions, newborns aren’t spotted but have the same coat as an adult.

      And a camera trap caught Mom carrying a kitten though the woods in 2015! The report is in Indonesian, but the accompanying image is beautiful.

      Interactions with people:

      As you might expect, this cat’s power and dramatic appearance have earned it local renown.

      Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

      In China, the Asian golden cat is thought to be a kind of leopard and is known as “rock cat” or “yellow leopard”. Different color phases have different names; those with black fur are called “inky leopards”, and those with spotted coats are called “sesame leopards”.

      In some regions of Thailand, the Asian golden cat is called Seua fai (Thai: เสือไฟ; “fire tiger”). According to a regional legend, the burning of an Asian golden cat’s fur drives tigers away. Eating the flesh is believed to have the same effect. The Karen people believe that simply carrying a single hair of the cat is sufficient. Many indigenous people believe the cat to be fierce, but in captivity it has been known to be docile and tranquil. In the south, it is called Kang kude (คางคูด) and believed to be a fierce animal that can hurt or eat livestock and larger animals such as elephants.


      Yes, as Near Threatened, and the IUCN reports that Asiatic golden cats may be very close to qualifying for Vulnerable status.

      The main threats are loss of habitat, indiscriminate use of snares, and poaching.

      Despite legal protection, the cat’s pelt is sold illegally. As well, it is often used in traditional medicine as a substitute for tiger body parts. And the meat is considered a delicacy in some places.

      Asiatic golden cats do prey on domestic animals, particularly poultry, but also sheep and goats. Retribution killings are the result. This is particularly a problem around the fringes of Sumatra’s Bukit Barisan Salatan National Park.

      Not a lighting problem. This is a melanistic Asiatic golden cat in Bukit Barisan Salatan National Park.

      Featured image: Graeme Knox/Shutterstock


      Cat Specialist Group. 2019. Asiatic golden cat. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=117 Last accessed July 21, 2019.

      Dhendup, T. 2016. Status of Asiatic Golden Cat Catopuma temminckii Vigors & Horsfield, 1827 (Carnivora: Felidae) in Bhutan. Journal of Threatened Taxa, 8(4): 8698-8702.

      Johnson, W. E.; Eizirik, E.; Pecon-Slattery, J.; Murphy, W. J.; and others. 2006. The Late Miocene Radiation of Modern Felidae: A Genetic Assessment. Science, 311:73-77.

      Kitchener, A. C.; Van Valkenburgh, B.; and Yamaguchi, N. 2010. Felid form and function, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, ed. Macdonald, D. W., and Loveridge, A. J., 83-106. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

      Kitchener, A. C.; Breitenmoser-Würsten, C.; Eizirik, E.; Gentry, A.; and others. 2017. A revised taxonomy of the Felidae: The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. https://repository.si.edu/bitstream/handle/10088/32616/A_revised_Felidae_Taxonomy_CatNews.pdf

      Li, G.; Figueiro, H. V.; Eizirik, E.; and Murphy, W. J. 2018. Recombination-aware phylogenomics unravels the complex divergence of hybridizing species. bioRxiv, 485904.

      Macdonald, D. W.; Loveridge, A. J.; and Nowell, K. 2010b. Dramatis personae: An introduction to the wild felids, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, eds. Macdonald, D. W., and Loveridge, A. J., 3-58. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

      McCarthy, J.; Dahal, S.; Dhendup, T.; Gray, T.N.E.; and others. 2015. Catopuma temminckii (errata version published in 2016). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T4038A97165437.

      Nyakatura, K., and Bininda-Emonds, O. R. P. 2012. Updating the evolutionary history of Carnivora (Mammalia): a new species-level supertree complete with divergence time estimates. BMC Biology. 10:12.

      O’Brien, S. J., and Johnson, W. E. 2007. The evolution of cats. Scientific American. 297 (1):68-75.

      Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=IF8nDwAAQBAJ

      Turner, A., and M. Antón. 1997. The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives: An Illustrated Guide to Their Evolution and Natural History. New York: Columbia University Press.

      Werdelin, L.; Yamaguchi, N.; Johnson, W. E.; and O’Brien, S. J.. 2010. Phylogeny and evolution of cats (Felidae), in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, eds. Macdonald, D. W., and Loveridge, A. J., 59-82. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

      Wikipedia. 2019. Asian golden cat. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_golden_cat Last accessed July 22, 2019.

One comment

  1. I’m really enjoying your series on worldwide cat species. It’s fascinating that there’s been a sighting of a melanistic Asiatic golden cat!

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