The African golden cat remains little known by science, though within Africa there is much tribal superstition about it. It is also called the ‘leopard’s brother’ because, according to local people, it follows the leopard. It is about twice as big as a large domestic cat, is robustly built and has a short tail. The color of its fur ranges from sepia-gray to marmalade orange-red, and it sometimes has spots, and could be spotted all over. These animals in captivity can change from red to gray and vice versa, and in the wild this may happen as well.
African golden cats live in equatorial Africa, inhabiting areas from western Sierra Leone to central Africa and as far to the east as Kenya. The Congo River serves as a natural geographic barrier that divides the two subspecies. These animals primarily inhabit lowland, in areas of moist forest, but they can also occur along rivers in recently logged forest, and in mountainous regions in alpine moorland and bamboo forest.
Due to its very reclusive habits, not much is known about the African golden cat’s behavior. It is a solitary animal, and is normally nocturnal or crepuscular, although they have sometimes been seen hunting during the day, according to the availability of prey in the area. In captivity, African golden cats can be seen showing aggressive and threatening behaviors. When threatened their back is kept slightly arched, and the hair on their back and tail stands up. They keep their head lower than their body, usually tilted to the side. Their tail curves in a hook shape and can whip sharply before returning to its original form. When these cats attack, they do it swiftly.
African golden cats are carnivores, preying on mid-sized mammals including tree hyraxes, smaller forest antelopes, red duikers, and monkeys, and sometimes birds and fish.
There is only one recorded viewing of two cats traveling together, and this may suggest a monogamous pair bonding, but more evidence is needed to understand their mating system. Information about the mating of these animals is from captive individuals only. 1 to 2 kittens can be born to 1 mother, occasionally 3. Gestation is for 75 to 78 days. The kittens are born blind, opening their eyes after about a week. When they are about 2 weeks old, they show curiosity about their surroundings and they are able to climb. Around 6 weeks old, weaning begins. Males are sexually mature at about 6 months old, and females at 11 months.
The African golden cat prey populations and habitat are decreasing. The West African moist forests have been degraded heavily and the areas that remain are distributed patchily. ‘Savannization’, which is a process whereby forest becomes savanna due to logging and slash-and-burn agriculture, has probably led to fragmentation and population decline. The African golden cat is hunted, with skins regularly appearing in markets. They are also killed when raiding poultry sheds or preying on domestic sheep and goats.
According to the IUCN Red List, the African Golden cat is occasionally observed in the wild, and generally considered rare. There is no estimation of population size available. This species’ numbers are decreasing and currently it is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List.
African golden cats have an important role as predators of the forest, and prey on a range of animals, thus controlling their populations. They also serve as prey for the leopard, their natural predator.