In English, this medium-sized Asian cat is known by its most common fur color: golden brown. In Southeast Asia, though, local names like “fire tiger” and “yellow leopard” reflect its traditional association with the big cats (note: this used to puzzle taxonomists, too, but molecular studies do show that Asiatic golden cats are not members of Panthera).
The scientific name is Catopuma temmincki. (They named it in honor of Dutch zoologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck, who was the director of Leiden’s National Museum of Natural History when Europeans first described the Asiatic golden cat.)
Bay cat. (Johnson et al., 2006) However, Li et al. call it the Asiatic golden cat lineage, perhaps because the bay cat is so rare. That term doesn’t seem to be in common usage yet, but it’s worth noting now, in case there are future classification changes.
- Unique facial fur patterns. The Cat Specialist Group describes this best: “The most distinct features of the cat are the white lines bordered with dark to black running across the cheeks, from the nostrils towards the cheeks, at the inner corner of the eyes, and up the crown.”
- Dhendup calls it “a feline of many colors.” That might seem strange for a species called the golden cat, but it can come in light cinnamon, red, gray, or black, as well as the most common color: golden brown. Spotted and stripped Asiatic golden cats, like this one, have even been seen!
- Outside of the big cats, this is Asia’s largest wild cat (it’s a little bigger and heavier than the African golden cat, too). (Bashir et al.)
This information is from the Cat Specialist Group, except where noted.
- Weight: 20 to 35 pounds.
- Height at the shoulder: 22 inches. Asiatic golden cats are 2 to 3 times the size of a typical house cat. (Wikipedia)
- Body length: 28 to 41 inches.
- Tail length: 16 to 22 inches.
- Coat: Apart from their multicolored facial fur, most Asiatic golden cats are solid-colored, although some can be spotted/striped. The back of the ear, regardless of coat color, is black with a faint gray central patch. 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 could be a useful signal to kittens 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. Kittens are born with the same markings as their parents. (Sunquist and Sunquist)
Where found in the wild:
Golden cats have been seen from Tibet, Nepal, and northeastern India across southern China and Indochina. Their distribution varies from place to place — while outnumbering other wild cats in Laos and Thailand, for example, they are seldom seen in southern China or eastern Cambodia.
They are more common than other cats on Sumatra but are not found on other Indonesian islands or on Borneo, although a few experts, including Luo et al., consider the bay cat of Borneo to be an island form of the Asiatic golden cat. (Cat Specialist Group)
- Range of environments: Asiatic golden cats have been seen from tropical lowlands up to almost 13,000 feet in India’s Sikkim region. Very little is known about these shy, elusive cats. Wildlife experts suspect they live in a variety of habitats, including high-altitude grasslands and rocky areas, though most sightings are in evergreen forests. (Cat Specialist Group; Sunquist and Sunquist)
- Prey base: Small animals, including rodents, birds, lizards, and snakes, are often on the menu, but Asiatic golden cats can take down any size of mammal up to the size of a small deer. They also prey on domestic poultry, sheep, and goats. (Kawanishi and Sunquist; Sunquist and Sunquist)
- Example of guild: Asiatic golden cats are often found along with clouded leopards and marbled cats. (Cat Specialist Group) They also share the island of Sumatra with tigers. (McCarthy et al., 2015a; Sunarto et al.) On the Malaya Peninsula, Asiatic golden cats are the fourth most commonly imaged cat in camera traps, after tigers, leopards, and leopard cats; here, clouded leopards and marbled cats aren’t so often photographed. (Azlan and Sharma)
Near threatened, though Asiatic golden cats may be close to an up-listing to Vulnerable. For more details, see the IUCN red-list assessment and the Cat Specialist Group’s species page.
This is a slightly edited chapter from my eBook on Asia’s small cats, and edited again on November 1, 2022.
Featured image: Open Cage via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.5
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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.
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