They are about twice the size of a domestic cat. Their rounded head appears very small in relation to their body size. They are heavily built with stocky, long legs and large paws. They have two color morphs, a red and a grey phase, which were once thought to be two separate species, rather than variations of the same species. They are a rusty brown, grey, or golden in color, and can either be spotted, with the spotting ranging from faded tan to heavy black in color, or not spotted at all. Their undersides, areas around the eyes, cheeks, chin and throat are lighter colored to almost white. Their long tail is darker on the top and ends in a black tip. Those cats in the western parts of its range tend to have heavier spotting than those in the eastern areas. They can also be melanistic, or black all over with darker black spots. Melanistic (all-black) individuals account for about 4% of the total population, with the red and grey phases each having about an equal half of the remaining population. Their coloration can change over time, and the base coloration is independent of range.
Reproduction and Social Behavior
These cats have not been well-documented in the wild, so all humans know about their reproductive habits has been observed in captivity. They are terrestrial and solitary, and can be either crepuscular/nocturnal or diurnal depending on their location. They breed readily in captivity. Their gestation period is 75 days, and one or two kittens are born. Their eyes open a week after birth, they are weaned at 6-8 weeks, and are sexually mature at 18 months, although they usually don't breed until they are two years old.
Threats and Conservation
The Pygmy people in Cameroon use its tail as a talisman to protect them when they hunt. They use their skins in ceremonial robes.
Hunting for their skins does not deplete their numbers greatly; their primary threat is deforestation and the savannization of tropical forest.
Hunting of this cat has been banned in the following countries: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Zaïre. Hunting is regulated in Gabon, Liberia, Togo, and there is no protection in Congo, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda.
There are two subspecies of the African golden cat: Profelis aurata aurata, which is found from Congo to Uganda, and Profelis aurata celidogaster, which is found in western Africa.
Each of the subspecies has two distinct spotting patterns. P. a. celidogaster can either be spotted all over, or have a few spots on the back and neck with a few large spots on the sides of their body. P. a. aurata can either have spots just on its lower body, or no spots at all except a few indistinct spots on the belly.