I have updated this page today December 28, 2021. Information about the wild cat species needs to be regularly updated to keep pace with their status in the wild vis-à-vis their numbers. Inevitably, due to habitat loss and other ongoing threats, the number of Asiatic golden cats is decreasing year-on-year. However, readers should understand that the latest information is not absolutely current. It is probably at least five years old. That’s not bad. An underlying problem with respect to information about the Asiatic Golden cat is that we still don’t know all there is to know about this secretive wild cat species.
A confusing aspect of the naming of this cat is that this species was described in the same year (1827) as the African golden cat. The African golden cat was described by CJ Temminck while the Asiatic golden cat was described by Vigors and Horsfield but named in honour of Temminck 😢. As a result, the Asiatic golden cat is sometimes referred to as Temminck’s cat. The scientific name is Pardofelis temminckii.
Locals associate the golden cat with tigers and leopards. In Thailand they sometimes call (or called) the cat the “fire tiger”. Forest people believe that it is a very fierce creature and the master of all other cats. A local tribe believes that if you carry a single hair of the Asiatic golden cat, you will be protected from tigers. In China they believe that the golden cat is a kind of leopard and is or was known as the ‘rock cat’ or ‘yellow leopard’. In India a couple of naturalists, Jerdon and Sterndale, described the cat as the “bay cat”.
This cat has different colour phases resulting in different names such as ‘inky leopards’ when the fur is black and those with spotted coats are called ‘sesame leopards’. As can be seen from the photographs, the coat is as the name suggests: golden brown and the off-white facial markings are stupendous. There are some spots on the belly and in China there is apparently a spotted variant. Melanistic (black) variants are also known to exist.
As to their size, this cat is about the same size as a large ocelot and looks similar to the related African golden cat. The Asian cat is slightly heavier and the tail proportionately longer. The weight range (female to male) is 8.5 kg to 15.75 kg.
The coat can be golden brown to dark brown, grey, bright red or pale cinnamon. It can be marked with spots or be quite uniform in colour. The head is distinctly marked with white lines bordered with black running across each cheek and from the inner corner of the eyes to the crown of the head.
As at 2022, as per the IUCN Red List the distribution of this medium-sized cat species extends to the following countries: Bangladesh; Bhutan; Cambodia; China; India; Indonesia; Indonesia (Sumatera); Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Malaysia; Myanmar; Nepal; Thailand and Vietnam. They can be found to an elevation of 3,738 m above sea level.
The map below, of the Asian golden cat range, was made by me using Google My Maps. It is based on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ map. If you click on the blue flags you can see photos of the landscape in the area concerned, a video (China) etc.
View Asian golden cat Distribution 2009 in a larger map
You can see this map in larger format and with more on the distribution of this cat here: Asiatic golden cat range.
The population size is decreasing but they state that the population is not severely fragmented but that there will be a continuing decline of mature individual cats.
It’s been difficult to estimate the number of individuals which is not unusual. It has always been difficult to count the number of cats of a specific wild cat species. Although this is mainly terrestrial cat i.e. living on the ground, and therefore camera traps are likely to be more accurate when counting numbers.
This cat is usually linked to forested habitats including dry deciduous forest, tropical rainforest and evergreen forest. Despite being terrestrial they are good climbers and one cat was captured by a naturalist in a tree in the middle of a dense forest.
Hunting – ecology
They are able to kill large prey as indicated by two stories of Asiatic golden cats being killed. One was shot over a calf it had killed and the other was speared while feeding on a buffalo calf.
It is believed that they are active mainly at night and that that their prey mainly consists of mammals up to the size of small deer, rodents, lizards and birds. And sometimes they will kill livestock such as sheep, goats and poultry. They kill small prey with a nape bite which is typical of wild cats of this size. They pluck birds larger than pigeons before eating them.
It was described by Sterndale in his book of 1884, The Natural History of the Mammalia of India and Ceylon, as dealing with confinement very tranquilly and being of a “tractable disposition”. He said the cat was courageous when confronted with a large dog at its cage.
Sounds and marking
As to vocalisations, the Asiatic golden cat employs the following: hiss, spit, purr, growl, meow, gurgle and other sounds. And like other cats they scent mark, spray urine and rub their heads on objects. They also rake logs with claws to mark territory.
Remarkably, even today, 2022, there’s more to learn about this cat. In 2002 it was stated that “nothing is known about the reproductive behaviour of Asiatic golden cats in the wild”. That statement comes from my source namely Wild Cats of the World by the Sunquists. At that time there was even limited information from captive animals.
The oestrus cycle was reported as being 39 days long with oestrus lasting six days. The gestation period is believed to be 78 to 80 days. Litters typically are of one kitten although there are records of three kittens being born in the litter. The birthweight of kittens is approximately 220-250 g. Their coats are marked like their parents. They open their eyes at 6 to 12 days old. And their weight doubles by three weeks of age and triples by eight weeks of age.
The threats to their survival in the wild obviously centre around human activities including residential and commercial development, deforestation for wood and pulp plantations, livestock farming and ranching, dams and water management use. These all means habitat loss which is a major threat throughout its range. The deforestation rates in Southeast Asia are still the highest in the world. There are an increasing number of hydropower projects which potentially impact the species very negatively.
There’s been an increase in illegal hunting and poaching for consumption and for body parts such as pelts. It appears that the cat is poached and hunted in every country across its distribution. You will see pelts being traded along the Myanmar-Thailand border and in Sumatra. Poaching is particularly bad in Vietnam and China where the species is becoming extinct. And apparently the animal is snared across much of mainland Southeast Asia which constitutes a threat to its survivability.
In Bangladesh the animal is hunted by indigenous peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. And there’s a usual retribution killings by farmers after loss of chickens.
The following was written in 2009. It is semi-redundant but I’ve decided to retain it. The information remains useful.
The current IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ Assessment is “Near Threatened” (as at 28th May 2009). But the IUCN people say that the Asiatic golden cat is bordering on “Vulnerable” (“close to qualifying..under Criterion C”) . I couldn’t readily see what Criterion C refers to but I will presume that it at least in part relates to the continuing population decline and projected decline in this cat’s population due to habitat loss as a result of rapid deforestation in Southeast Asia.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ are not convincing in their assessment of the population numbers of this cat. Surveys are contradictory and they rely on similar numbers to the Clouded Leopard in respect of camera trap encounters against a background of a similar range etc. That would mean a figure of about 10,000 (see Clouded Leopard Population).
Geographic Range and Habitat and Ecology
The Asian golden cat lives in large but fragmented areas of Southeast Asia, in the following countries:
- Southern China
- See the large map below, which is accurately based on the Red List map.
Forest habitat is preferred by this cat, including tropical rainforest, favouring areas away from human activity. It is sometimes seen in a more open landscape (more so than for the Clouded Leopard and Marbled cat). In terms of height above sea level this cat is found up to about 3,000 meters (Himalayas – the highest recorded however being 3,738 meters in the Bhutan’s Jigme Sigye Wangchuk National Park). The distribution and home range is similar to the Clouded Leopard. In a survey, it was found that the home range extends to 32.6 km² (females) and 47.7 km² (males).
According to camera trap information, this wildcat is active in the daytime and dawn/dusk. It cannot be said, therefore, to be crepuscular. This cat makes the usual cat sounds including:
- hissing, spitting, meowing, purring and growling
- and a gurgle, apparently.
A ground hunter this cat can kill fairly large prey such as buffalo calves but it probably preys mainly on rodents, birds, lizards and small mammals up the size of a small deer. It will also prey on livestock such as sheep and goats.
Threats and Conservation/Protection
Classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List.
The most common threat to the wildcats generally also affects the Asian golden cat, namely habitat loss as a result of human activity. Other threats to survival are:
- reckless snaring
- illegal trade in body parts (against CITES Appendix II listing)
- killings by farmers to protect their livestock
- declining prey populations (ungulate – “being pawed” or “hoofed animal”), which is presumably due to habitat loss primarily
Protection comes in the form of CITES Appendix II listing as mentioned (but who is enforcing this and how effectively?) plus “National Legislation”. There are prohibitions on hunting in:
- Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Peninsular Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and Viet Nam
- Hunting is regulated in Lao PDR.
- In Bhutan protection from hunting only applies to protected areas.
How effective and committed is the protection? The biggest threat is commerce in the form of deforestation (habitat loss) in my view and this seems not to be addressed.