Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Little is known about the biology of the African golden cat, which has a fierce reputation with local people (4). It is a terrestrial hunter that has been seen hunting in the daytime, but based on the activity of its preferred prey it is more likely to be crepuscular and nocturnal (4). It feeds mostly on small mammals, such as rats and hyraxes, and birds which are plucked before eating (4). It also takes monkeys, and its long, heavy jaw enables it to tackle powerfully built duikers (2). The African golden cat has also been known to raid chicken coops and kill domestic goats and sheep (4). The African golden cat is solitary, and like other felids, it is likely to maintain territories, marked with scent and faeces (4). Captive animals have been recorded giving birth to litters of two kittens, after a gestation of 75 days (4), although in the wild one kitten per litter seems to be more common (5). The new born kittens are well hidden in a fallen, hollow log or a similar concealed den (2) (4). Their eyes open after six days, and they then develop quickly; walking at 13 days and eating whole animals shortly after 40 days (4).
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Description

The African golden cat is little known by science, but is the subject of much tribal superstition in many parts of Africa (4). Pygmy tribes in Cameroon carry the tail of the African golden cat when hunting elephants to ensure good fortune, and the skin is used in some areas during circumcision rituals (4). The African golden cat is about twice the size of a large domestic cat and is robustly built with a short tail. Despite its name, the fur varies from marmalade orange-red to sepia-grey and may be spotted all over, unspotted or somewhere in between (4). Captive specimens have been known to change from grey to red and vice versa and this may also occur in the wild (2). The throat, chest and undersides are white or whitish, and the belly is marked with bold dark spots or blotches (4). Its round face has a heavy muzzle, and the small, blunt, un-tufted ears have black backs (4). Males are larger and heavier than females (4). The African golden cat is also known as the 'leopard's brother' as local people believe it follows the leopard (4).
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Distribution

Range Description

The African golden cat is endemic to the forests of Equatorial Africa. There are no confirmed records from The Gambia and Guinea Bissau, nor from Togo and Benin (Ray and Butynski in press), which suggests a separation between Western and Central African populations (Nowell and Jackson 1996).
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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.

Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )

  • Alderton, D. 1993. Wild Cats of the World. New York: Facts on File.
  • 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/.
  • Hall-Martin, A., P. Bosman. 1998. Cats of Africa. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • 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.
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Range

Occurs in the tropical rainforest region of equatorial Africa; from Senegal, Sierra Leone and Liberia, west through the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, south to northern Angola, and east to Uganda and Kenya (4).
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Physical Description

Morphology

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.

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.

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.

Range mass: 3.5 to 18 kg.

Range length: 61 to 101.5 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
While the Neotropical and Indomalayan regions have several sympatric forest-dependent felid species, this is Africa?s only one. The African golden cat occurs mainly in primary moist equatorial forest, although on the periphery of its range it penetrates savanna regions along riverine forest. It also occurs in montane forest and alpine moorland in the east of its range (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Ray and Butynski in press). The golden cat also has the distinction of being Africa?s least studied felid, and only its diet has been researched. Two studies of scats ? from the Ituri forest of the Congo (Hart et al. 1996) and the Dzanga-Sangha forest of the Central African republic (Ray and Sunquist 2001) ? found similar results. Rodents and squirrels were the main prey item (70 % and 62% respectively), followed by small and medium-size duikers (antelopes) (25% and 33% respectively. Primates made up 5% of the prey items in both studies, and there have been several observations by primate researchers of African golden cats hunting arboreal primates (Ray and Butynski in press). The same general diet items were reported by Kingdon (1977) from Uganda?s Bwindi National Park. Birds are also taken, and pangolin remains were frequently found in scats from the Ivory Coast?s Tai National Park (D. Jenny pers. comm., in Nowell and Jackson 1996). In southern Sudan a female with two kittens was observed hunting bats as they swooped for insects feeding on fallen mangoes (Seth-Smith 1996 in Ray and Butynski in press). African golden cats have turned up in the diet of leopards, the only other felid to occur in African moist forest. African golden cat remains were found in five of 196 leopard Panthera pardus scats from Gabon?s Lopé National Park (Henschel et al. 2005); a single carcass killed by a leopard was found in the Ituri (Hart et al. 1996).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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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.

Range elevation: 3600 (high) m.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; rainforest

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The African golden cat primarily inhabits lowland, moist forest, but is also occurs in recently logged forest along rivers, and in mountainous areas in bamboo forest and alpine moorland (2) (4)
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Trophic Strategy

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.

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; fish; carrion

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Piscivore , Scavenger )

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

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

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Predation

African golden cats are preyed upon by leopards, and they tend to avoid inhabiting areas with populations of leopards.

Known Predators:

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Known prey organisms

Profelis aurata preys on:
Miopithecus talapoin

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

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.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

On average African golden cats live around 15 years in captivity. Their lifespan in the wild is currently unknown.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
15 years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
21 (high) years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 21 years (captivity) Observations: One wild born specimen lived could have been 21 years old when it died in captivity (Richard Weigl 2005).
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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.

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.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 3.

Average number of offspring: 1 to 2.

Range gestation period: 75 to 78 days.

Range birth mass: 195 to 235 g.

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.

Average number of offspring: 2.

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.

Parental Investment: pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

  • Alderton, D. 1993. Wild Cats of the World. New York: Facts on File.
  • 2002. "Cat Survival Trust" (On-line). Accessed November 09, 2010 at http://www.catsurvivaltrust.org/.
  • 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.
  • Tonkin, B., E. Kohler. 1978. Breeding of the African golden cat, Felis (Profelis) aurata, in captivity. International Zoo Yearbook, 18: 145-150.
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
NT
Near Threatened

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Henschel, P., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C.& Sogbohossou, E.

Reviewer/s
Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U. (Cat Red List Authority) & Hoffmann, M. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Near Threatened as it seems reasonable to believe that the species could have declined on the order of 20% over the course of the last 15 years across its range, due mainly to the impact of habitat loss, hunting and loss of prey base, particularly in West Africa and probably in Democratic Republic of Congo (hence almost qualifies as threatened under criterion A2bcd). Although there are no reliable density estimates, the total population almost certainly exceeds 10,000 mature individuals (IUCN Cats Red List Workshop 2007).

History
  • 2002
    Vulnerable
  • 1994
    Insufficiently Known
    (Groombridge 1994)
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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.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened

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Status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).
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Population

Population
Africa's most poorly known cat, it is infrequently observed in the wild, and generally considered rare. However, skins are rather more frequently encountered (in museums, and among hunters and bushmeat markets), indicating that the species may not be as rare as field records suggest (Ray and Butynski in press) and possibly the threat of significant trade.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Loss of habitat is an obvious threat to this species. Deforestation has destroyed suitable habitat and driven declines of prey species in large areas of the African golden cat range, particularly in West and East Africa (Nowell and Jackson 1996; Ray and Butynski in press). An additional threat stems from the bush meat trade, which figures largely in the region?s economy, and is depleting populations of the prey base of the African golden cat. There appears to be little direct hunting of golden cats (Nowell and Jackson 1996). However, they may be trapped incidentally in wire snares: over the course of a three-month period at four sites in Lobeké, south-east Cameroon, 13 African golden cats were recorded killed by wire snares (T. Davenport, in Ray et al. 2005). Skins are sometimes found for sale in markets, for example in Yaoundé and Kampala where they are often sold alongside medicinal herbs and fetishes (T. Davenport, in Ray and Butynski in press). Skins may be used during circumcision rites or to wrap valuable objects, or as good luck charms for hunting success (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

African golden cats are known prey of Leopards (Henschel et al. 2005), and on a small scale avoid areas where Leopard are common (T. Gilbert in prep.). On a larger scale, in areas where Leopards have recently been extirpated, African golden cats seem to be more locally abundant (P. Henschel pers. comm.).
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The lack of biological and population information means it is hard to determine the status of the African golden cat in the wild (5). However, its habitat and prey populations are known to be contracting (2). The moist forests of West Africa have been heavily degraded and the remaining areas are patchily distributed (5). 'Savannization', a process in which forest is turned into savanna as a result of slash-and-burn agriculture and logging, has probably led to population declines and fragmentation (5). There is some hunting of the African golden cat, as cat skins regularly appear in markets (2), and hunting of small antelopes decreases the cats' prey (5). African golden cats are also killed while raiding poultry sheds or going after domestic sheep and goats (4).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Included on CITES Appendix II. Hunting of this species is prohibited in Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Democratic Republic of Congo, with hunting regulations in place in Gabon, Liberia and Togo (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

Key protected areas for the species include: Gola F.R. (Sierra Leone), Mount Nimba Strict N.R. (Liberia, Côte d?Ivoire, Guinea), Sapo N.P. (Liberia), Taï and Comoé National Parks (Côte d?Ivoire), Gashaka Gumti N.P. (Nigeria), Korup N.P. and Dja Faunal Reserve (Cameroon), Lopé N.P. and Ivindo N.P. (Gabon), Odzala and Nouabale-Ndoki National Parks (Congo Republic) and Dzangha-Ndoki National Parks (CAR), Virunga N.P. (DR Congo), Queen Elizabeth and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks (Uganda), and Aberdares N.P. (Kenya) (Butynski and Ray in press).

There is a need for further survey work to acquire reliable population density estimates in various forest types, including disturbed habitats, in order to help better determine the population status across the range of the species.
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Conservation

The African golden cat is listed on Appendix II of the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that international trade should be carefully monitored to ensure it is compatible with the species' survival (3). Hunting of the golden cat is prohibited in 12 of its range countries, and hunting regulations exist in Gabon, Liberia and Togo (5). Also, despite the forest loss and prey depletion occurring in much of its range, the African golden cat is reported to exist in secondary forest and survive on small rodents, and thus may be in less danger of extinction as some other small cats (4). In addition, large areas of relatively pristine forest still exist in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo and Gabon (5). Hopefully action can be taken before this beautiful cat and the remarkably diverse forests it inhabits decline further.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

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.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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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.

Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material

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Wikipedia

African golden cat

The African golden cat (Profelis aurata) is a medium-sized wild cat distributed over the rainforests of West and Central Africa. It is about 80 cm (31 in) long, and has a tail of about 30 cm (12 in) in length. It is a close relative of both the caracal and the serval,[3] but current classification places it as the only member of the genus Profelis.[1]

Description[edit]

The African golden cat has variable fur color, typically ranging from cinnamon or reddish-brown to grey, although melanistic forms also exist. It can be either spotted, with the spotting ranging from faded tan to heavy black in color, or not spotted at all. Its undersides and areas around the eyes, cheeks, chin, and throat are generally lighter in color and may be almost white. Its tail is darker on the top and may be heavily banded, lightly banded, or plain, although it always ends in a black tip. Those cats in the western parts of its range tend to have heavier spotting than those in the eastern areas. Two color morphs, a red and a grey phase, were once thought to indicate separate species, rather than variations of the same species.[4]

The African golden cats is about twice the size of a domestic cat. Its rounded head is very small in relation to its body size. It is a heavily built cat, with stocky, long legs, a relatively short tail, and large paws. Body length usually varies within the range 61 to 101 cm (24 to 40 in). Tail length ranges from 16 to 46 cm (6.3 to 18.1 in), and shoulder height is about 38 to 55 cm (15 to 22 in). The cat weighs around 5.5 to 16 kg (12 to 35 lb), with males being larger than females.[5][6]

African golden cat pelts

Overall, the African golden cat resembles the caracal, but has shorter untufted ears, a longer tail, and a shorter, more rounded face. They have brown eyes and small, rounded ears.[7] Despite the wide variation in coat color, pelts of African golden cats can be identified by the presence of a distinctive whorled ridge of fur in front of the shoulders, where the hairs change direction.[5]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The African golden cat inhabits tropical forests from sea level to 3,000 m (9,800 ft). It prefers dense, moist forest with heavy undergrowth, and is often found close to rivers, but it may also be found in cloud forest, bamboo forests, and high moorland habitats. The cat is found from Senegal in the west to Kenya in the east, and ranges as far north as the Central African Republic and as far south as northern Angola.[5]

Behavior and diet[edit]

Due to its extremely reclusive habits, little is known about the behavior of African golden cats. They are solitary animals, and are normally crepuscular or nocturnal, although they have also been observed hunting during the day, depending on the availability of local prey.[5]

The African golden cat is able to climb, but hunts primarily on the ground. It mainly feeds on rodents, but also includes birds, small monkeys, duikers, giant forest hogs, and small antelope in its diet. These cats have also been known to take domestic poultry and livestock.[4][5]

Reproduction[edit]

Knowledge of the African golden cat's reproductive habits is based on captive specimens. They breed readily in captivity.[citation needed] The mother gives birth to one or two kittens after a gestation period of around 75 days. The kittens weigh 180 to 235 g (6.3 to 8.3 oz), but grow and develop rapidly in comparison with other small cat species. One individual was reported to be scaling a 40-cm wall within 16 days of birth, reflecting a high degree of physical agility from an early age. The kittens' eyes open within a week of birth, and they are weaned at 6–8 weeks. Females reach sexual maturity at 11 months of age, but the males do not do so until 18 months.[5]

These cats live up to 12 years in captivity, but their lifespan in the wild is unknown.[5]

Subspecies[edit]

The subspecies of African golden cat are:

  • P. a. aurata - from Congo to Uganda
  • P. a. celidogaster - throughout Western Africa

Each of the subspecies has two distinct spotting patterns. P. a. aurata can either have spots just on its lower body, or no spots at all except a few indistinct spots on the belly. P. a. celidogaster can either be spotted all over, or have a few spots on the back and neck with a few large spots on the sides of the body.[4]

Some sources list P. a. cottoni instead of P. a. celidogaster. In this arrangement, all populations are included in the nominate, with the supposed second subspecies restricted to the rainforests of easternmost Congo and Uganda, but this is based on a 1939 study and lumps allopatric populations in the nominate, while treating parapatric ones as distinct, which is not very reasonable biogeographically. Thus, subsequent authors usually considered the supposed P. a. cottoni a semimelanistic color morph, and recognized an allopatric division between the subspecies as listed above. This confusion is mainly due to the red/grey polymorphism mentioned above, as well as uncertainties about the type localities. In any case, individuals resembling P. a. "cottoni" have been found all over the species' range in particularly humid habitats, and individuals in captivity have even been observed to change coat color between the "typical" (red) morph and dusky grey as they shed their fur.

The African golden cat is superficially similar to the Asian golden cat, However, genetic analysis has determined they are not closely related.[8] Its closest relatives are the caracal (Caracal caracal) and serval (Leptailurus serval), while the Asian golden cat (Pardofelis temminckii) belongs to the genus Pardofelis.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 544. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ Breitenmoser, C., Henschel, P. & Sogbohossou, E. (2008). Profelis aurata. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 15 September 2011. Database entry includes justification for why this species is near threatened
  3. ^ Johnson et al. The Late Miocene Radiation of Modern Felidae: A Genetic Assessment. pp. 73–77, Science Vol. 311. 
  4. ^ a b c Postanowicz, Rebecca. "African Golden Cat (Profelis aurata)". Archived from the original on January 4, 2009. Retrieved 12 May 2009. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Sunquist, Mel; Sunquist, Fiona (2002). Wild cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 246–251. ISBN 0-226-77999-8. 
  6. ^ Burnie D and Wilson DE (Eds.), Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. DK Adult (2005), ISBN 0789477645
  7. ^ Macdonald, edited by David W. (2009). David W. Macdonald, ed. The Princeton encyclopedia of mammals (Pbk. ed. ed.). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. p. 655. ISBN 978-0-691-14069-8. 
  8. ^ Macdonald, D and Loveridge, A. (2010). The Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-923444-8
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