The African golden cat Caracal aurata: Africa's least-known felid
Bahaa-el-din L., Henschel P., Butynski TM., Macdonald DW., Mills D., Slotow R., Hunter L.
© 2014 The Mammal Society and John Wiley & Sons Ltd. The African golden cat Caracal aurata is endemic to tropical Africa. It is one of the world's least-studied felids and is considered rare in most of its geographic range. The status of the African golden cat in the wild has never been rigorously assessed, but the species is increasingly threatened by habitat degradation, loss and fragmentation, and by unsustainable hunting. We describe the African golden cat and review its taxonomy, distribution, ecology, behaviour, threats and conservation status. The information presented here is based on the literature and on new data from the first two intensive field studies on the species (underway in Gabon and Uganda). The golden cat is phenotypically variable. Within the two main colour morphs, golden/reddish-brown and grey, there is wide variation and intergradation. Both of these morphs occur throughout the species' range. Melanistic and chocolate-brown morphs also occur but are uncommon. Recent genetic analysis indicates that the golden cat is closely related to the caracal Caracal caracal, and it has, therefore, been changed from the genus Profelis to Caracal. The golden cat is predominantly terrestrial and cathemeral. Its diet consists mainly of rodents and small ungulates. Field studies in Gabon and Uganda have established that golden cats can be locally common. They are prone to capture by wire snares, however, and are absent in forests hunted at commercial scales. Species-focused camera trap surveys are effective for collecting distribution, abundance, population structure, ecological and behavioural data on golden cats.