“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected”
Known as the ‘fire tiger’ (Seua fai) in certain parts of Thailand, this enigmatic forest dweller is surrounded by legend. Thai people believe that burning the Asiatic golden cat’s pelage will drive tigers away and that cooking and eating the whole cat will protect against tiger attacks. Those of the peaceful and nature-loving Karen tribe, the largest of the major tribes of northern Thailand, maintain a single hair will do the same job, but how they come by this one hair is not disclosed. The Asiatic cat is also believed, by most indigenous peoples, to be ferocious. Though few signs of this have been demonstrated in captivity.
The range of the golden cat covers parts of some of the most rapidly developing countries in the world. Their habitat is being destroyed at a terrifying rate to accomodate man, who is also managing to destroy the cat’s prey at the same time. Added to that, they are hunted for their beautiful pelts and body parts – no surprise there then! Evidence of this appeared in four separate markets in Myanmar between 1991 and 2006. Parts and skins from one hundred and ten individual cats were reported. These markets can still be found on the borders of China and Thailand, and are still trading in this very rare creature and other animals. The markets are well-attended by international buyers. The fact that the golden cat is fully protected in Myanmar does not seem to be helping it at all here.
The Asiatic golden cat is also known as the Asian golden cat and Temminck’s golden cat (named after the Dutch naturalist Coenraad Jacob Temminck. Temminck first described the related African golden cat in 1827). There are three subspecies of golden cat: C.t.dominicanorum – South China, C.t.temminck – Himalayas to Sumatra and C.t.tristis – Southwest China Highlands.
Asiatic golden cats are quite solid creatures and tend to resemble the domestic cat in all but size. They typically weigh about twenty-five to thirty-five pounds and can reach up to forty-one inches in body length. Males are usually larger than females.
They have a dense, coarse coat ranging in colour from dark-orange to brown, dark-brown to cinnamon, and dark-grey to black. Melanistic, panther-like morphs also exist. Coats are sometimes spotted or have rosettes, or have vague stripes. Black and white lines run along the side of the face.
These elusive Asiatic golden cats were once thought to be mainly nocturnal, but studies now reveal they are diurnal and crepuscular. They can climb trees if needs be, though they do prefer to be at ground level. Their vocalisations, like their appearance, again resemble the domestic cat, with purring, meowing, growling, spitting and hissing.
Most of the information on reproduction in golden cats is derived from observations of the species in captivity. There is apparently no specific breeding season for the golden cat, and if one litter is lost another will be produced within four months. After a gestation period of up to eighty days, the female will give birth to one to three kittens, each weighing about eight and a half ounces. The kittens will grow very quickly and have tripled their size by the age of eight weeks. Their coats are already patterned at birth, but their eyes will be closed for the first six to twelve days. Males play an active role in rearing their young. The kittens will be fully weaned at six months and fully mature at eighteen to twenty-four months, depending whether male or female.
Subtropical and tropical forest with rocky areas, bamboo forest, grasslands and shrub.
From the Himalayan foothills of Tibet into China, across to India and down through to Sumatra.
What they eat
Mainly rodents with some birds and reptiles. They are capable of bringing down much larger prey such as small deer and buffalo calves.
Deforestation, loss of prey species, indiscriminate snaring, poaching for its fur and bones, poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, and human conflict.
Status: Near Threatened
The Asiatic golden cat (Pardofelis temminckii) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Near Threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future). It is also listed under CITES Appendix 1 (as Catopuma temminckii).
The species is fully protected over most of its range with the exception of Lao People’s Democratic Republic where hunting is regulated, and Bhutan where it is only protected in certain areas.
In Myanmar, pelts have been found in various markets catering for international buyers. The general consensus is that CITES laws are not adequately enforced here.
It is not known how many Asiatic golden cats still exist in the wild, but it is thought their numbers are declining rapidly. A limited number of individuals are kept in zoos around the world. Captive breeding programs exist in some.
Malaysia rescues rare golden cat from pot (2010)
Sensational offspring of Asiatic golden cats, Allwetter Zoo – Germany (May 2013)
Six cat species found in Eastern Plains Landscape (WWF February 2013)