Golden cat

The jungles of Southeast Asia have remarkable felid diversity. These forests have it all: striped or spotted, large or small, cats that prey on everything from deer to mice. While most of us are familiar with the large cats—tiger and leopard are the jungle kings in this part of the world—the smaller cats are often overlooked, which is a shame because they’re an interesting group. Today we focus on a medium-sized feline called the Asian golden cat (Pardofelis temminckii). The golden cat is a stocky feline weighing between 20 and 35 lbs. Although most individuals sport a golden-tan unmarked coat, the pelage is highly variable, with grey and ocelot-like spotted morphs occurring in some parts of its range. In 2009 a melanistic golden cat was camera trapped in Nepal. Individuals of the common golden phase have a distinctive white striping pattern along the cheeks and forehead. The golden cat ranges throughout Southeast Asia. It lives in a variety of habitats, from dry deciduous forest to subtropical and tropical rainforests to open grasslands. It ranges in altitude from sea-level to snow-capped mountain tops. It has also been found in secondary scrub forest, indicating that it can tolerate degraded habitat types. It also has a diverse prey base. It feeds on small game such as birds, mice, and reptiles. But it also takes larger animals, including ungulates. One fact should stand out from this information: The golden cat is one of the most adaptable—and successful—felines on the planet.

Biologists know surprisingly little about the golden cat. Although it does have a wide geographic range, and appears to be common in some areas, it is difficult to get data on elusive solitary cats, especially those living in dense forest. Camera trapping represents the best way to detect this species. Dozens of pictures have come out of Sumatra in recent years. In Vietnam it has been camera trapped several times in Pu Mat. WCS Laos has a particularly interesting camera trap sequence showing a mating pair of golden cats in Nam Et-Phou Louey. Overall numbers appear to be stronger than many other sympatric felines living in Southeast Asia. Nonetheless, the golden cat is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. It is certainly killed as by-catch in snares—a problem which probably accounts for low densities in many parts of Vietnam. In other areas it is directly persecuted because of its threat—real or perceived—against livestock. Yet another problem is the depletion of potential prey animals. Even with sufficient habitat, it would be difficult for a viable population to survive in the complete absence of ungulates. As conservation biologists I believe that it is important that we focus resources on species or populations most in need of help. But I also think that whenever possible we should give attention to species that aren’t in trouble at the moment—but could be heading in that direction. The golden cat is an excellent example of such an animal. I hope that I can contribute in some small way to our understanding of this secretive cat. And I hope that it is stalking the forests of Vietnam and Laos long after my research is said and done.

Asian golden cat camera trap photo
Asian golden cat camera trap photo

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