Photo taken by Karen Stout
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Asiatic Golden Cat’ or ‘Temminck’s Cat’, the Asian golden cat is a beautiful, elusive creature. They have successfully hidden from humans for hundreds of years; we know very little about their behaviour in the wild, and comparatively few of them have ever been kept in captivity.
There are various local and regional legends about these cats, and in some parts of Thailand they’re called “fire tigers” – and it’s thought that their presence, particularly that of their fur, drives tigers away. Some communities believe that this works only if you burn the fur or some part of the cat, and others believe that simply carrying with them a single hair from the Asian golden cat will suffice.
Sadly, these beautiful cats are suffering from the effects of hunting, poaching and deforestation – their most recently-assessed conservation level classifies them as Near Threatened, and some studies suggest they should perhaps have already been moved to the Vulnerable category. Their fur is often prized, which means that there is a black market for Asian golden cat hides that endangers them considerably.
Unusually for cats of their type, the Asian golden cat can display a wide variety of markings and pelage. Most are some shade of golden, but some have silver fur; many are plain with striped heads, but others display spotted coats, striped or spotted backs, or any number of other markings.
Generally speaking, they all have white and black lines of their cheeks and black-and-grey ears. They’re stocky, heavy-built cats, with – as is the case in almost all small cats – faces that look a great deal similar to those of our own domesticated felines.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Asian golden cats are indigenous to Asia – ranging from Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, India and Bangladesh to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Sumatra.
They definitely prefer heavily wooded habitats; they’re mostly to be found in tropical or sub-tropical forests, both of the evergreen and deciduous varieties. Occasionally, however, they’re found living in shrub and grassland – they don’t climb trees often (although they can) and as such they are perfectly capable of adapting to open living if necessary.
They bear a striking resemblance to the African golden cat, but close relation is geographically unlikely.
Many who live near these cats believe them to be fierce, but this theory hasn’t held up in captivity; they tend to be extremely tranquil and docile under such conditions, even playful and friendly with the keepers and handlers they know and trust.
In the wild, however, they’re solitary creatures – as is the case with most small cats. Males hold larger territories than females – and as such his territories generally overlap with those of several females in the nearby area – but mostly these cats only meet to mate, and live alone the remainder of the time.
Other than that, we know almost nothing about their behaviour in the wild. The difficulties inherent in studying these elusive creatures are such that we don’t know how they communicate, how they court, or where they sleep. We know that they prefer to stay on solid ground, but that they are also capable of both swimming and climbing if they must. We suspect that part of their communication could be their habit of raking trees and logs with their claws, but this cannot be proven.
Like most cats of their size, the Asian cat mostly lives on birds, rodents and reptiles. This isn’t always the case, though – they’re capable of bringing down prey much larger than themselves, and have been known to eat deer, water buffalo (calf) and ghoral – the latter being a small, deer-like creature found predominately in China.
As with so many things about the Asian golden cat, we aren’t entirely certain how they usually hunt and feed. We do know, though, that by and large they hunt during dawn and dusk – they’re not quite nocturnal, and tend to avoid activity both at the height of the day and in the depths of the night.
Again, there’s a limit to how much we can know about the reproductive habits of the Asian golden cat – particularly in the wild. From observing the cats in captivity we have learned that there, at least, they reach sexual maturity sometime shortly before their second birthday, and come into heat about once every 40 days. Intercourse is only minimally violent compared to the habits of many cats, and gestation lasts for around eighty days.
Litters consist of one to three kittens, and these kittens mature much faster than those of many cats – they’re born with their coat patterns already developed, open their eyes after about a week, and seem to be ready to be removed from their mother’s territory well, well before the standard year that many wild cats prefer to have.