Encyclopaedia of Cryptozoology
Category Mystery cat
Proposed scientific names
Other names Golden lion, Sumatran golden lion
Country reported Indonesia (Sumatra)
First reported 1990[1]
Prominent investigators Debbie Martyr
Richard Freeman

The cigau (chee-gow or chi-gow) is a cryptid cat reported from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, particularly the rainforests of Kerinci Seblat National Park.[2][3] It is sometimes called the golden lion, due to its yellow coat and silvery mane; several sightings describe it as semi-aquatic.[4]


Orang-pendek investigator Debbie Matyr first heard of the cigau during her 1989 expedition to the wilderness east of Mount Kerinci, where local hunters claimed the cigau, a dangerous big cat, lived.[1] In 2003, a Centre for Fortean Zoology expedition to Sumatra, led by Richard Freeman, also collected more detailed accounts of the cigau.[4][5] The father of one informant, Sahar, claimed that a cigau had once made its lair near a fallen tree bridging a river, where it would devour any pedestrians who slipped and fell from the tree. The cigau has a supernatural significance, as it is said to attack people who break certain taboos, as is the tiger.[4]

During ethnohistorical investigations in Serampas, on the edge of Kerinci Seblat National Park, J. David Neidel was told by local villagers that defenses such as moats and bamboo hedges were necessary to protect villages from wild animals, including the cigau, which Neidel describes as "a scientifically undocumented large felid species." One story repeatedly heard by Neidel told that the population of Dusun Rantau Bakil, at the headwaters of the Bantal River, was once almost wiped out by tigers and cigau.[6]


The cigau is said to be a big cat smaller than the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sundaica), but with a more robust or stocky build,[1] as well as disproportionately long firelimbs, giving it a slope-backed, hyena-like stance.[4] Due to its coat, the cigau is sometimes called a "golden lion"; its body is covered in golden, yellow, or tan fur, while its neck sports a silvery mane or ruff like that of a lion.[4] Its tail is short and tufted, like that of a cow.[4][7] It is a capable swimmer, and several accounts describe the cigau as being seen emerging from rivers, "flinging back its mane" to shake off the water.[4] All accounts agree that it is extremely aggressive, allegedly attacking men without provocation, disembowelling or drowning them.[4]


Sahar, a local informant interviewed by Martyr and Freeman, claimed that his father had seen a cigau during a journey to or from Kerinci, probably sometime around the 1960s. The cigau had stalked into his party's camp one night and dragged off one of the men–because he had broken a taboo by eating rice straight from a pot, so they believed. Sahar's father and his companions went after the cigau, which they saw, but by the time they found their missing friend, he had been disembowelled.[4]

Current status

Although some recent reports existed as of 2004, when Freeman questioned the forest-dwelling, nomadic Kubu people regarding the cigau, he found that, although they were all familiar with it, nobody claimed to have seen a specimen. Freeman consequently feels that the cigau is likely extremely rare, if not extinct,[5] due to deforestation and hunting pressure.[4]


Richard Freeman theorised that the cigau is a giant relative of the Asian golden cat (Catopuma temminckii; CC BY-SA 2.0).

Following discussions with Darren Naish, Freeman has suggested that the cigau could be a surviving Homotherium (CC BY-SA 3.0).

The cigau is somewhat reminiscent of a lion (Panthera leo), but these big cats have never been found in Indonesia; the closest modern populations are the Asiatic lions of India, which have been extirpated from most of the subcontinent. Following his first expedition to Sumatra, Richard Freeman cautiously suggested that the cigau could be a much larger, more heavily-built relative of the Asian golden cat (Catopuma temminckii), mainly because of this small cat's golden coat and relatively short tail.[4]

When Freeman described the cigau to Darren Naish, Naish felt that it was strikingly reminiscent of a homotherine scimitar-toothed cat; according to some studies, these short-tailed sabre-toothed cats had disproportionately long and stocky forelimbs, giving them a hyena-like build.[5] The best-known scimitar-toothed cat, Homotherium (4 MYA–12 KYA), was found in the Greater Sunda Islands during the Pleistocene, when falling sea levels merged the islands into a single large peninsula, Sunda. It lived alongside another sabre-toothed cat, Hemimachairodus.[8] However, whereas Homotherium survived into the Late Pleistocene in Europe and North America, the youngest known Indonesian remains of both Homotherium and Hemimachairodus date to the Middle Pleistocene. Homotherium species are also possible candidates for the tigre de montagne of Africa, and for the water tigers and tigre dantero of South America.[3]

Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Martyr, Debbie "An Investigation of the Orang-Pendek, the 'Short Man' of Sumatra," Cryptozoology, Vol. 9 (1990)
  2. Shuker, Karl P. N. "A Supplement to Dr Bernard Heuvelmans' Checklist of Cryptozoological Animals," Fortean Studies, Vol. 5 (1998)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Shuker, Karl P. N. (2020) Mystery Cats of the World Revisited: Blue Tigers, King Cheetahs, Black Cougars, Spotted Lions, and More, Anomalist Books, ISBN 978-1949501179
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 Freeman, Richard "Sumatra Expedition Report: June/July 2003," Animals & Men, No. 31 (2003)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Freeman, Richard "Return to Sumatra: Into the Lost Valley," Animals & Men, No. 34 (2004)
  6. Neidel, J. David "Settlement Histories of Serampas: Multiple Sources, Conflicting Data, and the Problem of Historical Reconstruction," From Distant Tales: Archaeology and Ethnohistory in the Highlands of Sumatra (2009)
  7. Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC-CLIO, Inc., ISBN 1576072835
  8. Volmer, Rebekka et. al. "Niche Overlap and Competition Potential Among Tigers (Panthera tigris), Sabertoothed Cats (Homotherium ultimum, Hemimachairodus zwierzyckii) and Merriam's Dog (Megacyon merriami) in the Pleistocene of Java," Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, Vol. 441 (October 2015)