Meet the African black footed cat!
However, did you know there’s an additional species of wild cat in Africa – recognized as one of the smallest cat species in the world? Black footed cats are a small spotted cat, half the size of a domestic cat, and subdivided into two species – Felis nigripes nigripes and Felis nigripes thomasi.
If you’re genuinely interested in African wild cats, here’s everything you should know about these tiny – and fascinating – cats.
Black footed cat characteristics
Whilst on a safari game drive you may come across a small cat that you don’t recognise. In order to know whether it’s an African black-footed cat, consider these characteristics that distinguish it from the other African wild cat species:
- Looks: Despite the species name, only the underparts of the feet and the cat’s pads are black. The cat has a stocky build with large eyes, rounded ears, and a black-tipped short tail. The face has the look of a typical domestic cat – with diagonal black lines that run across the outer corner of each eye to cheeks. Ears are plain and slightly rounded with the same color as the body. When threatened or stalked, they flatten their ears to keep a low profile.
- Size: Being one of the smallest wild cats in the world, they measure half the size of a typical domestic cat. Their lengths vary from male to female. Males can reach around 45 cm in length while females reach around 40 cm.
- Weight: Adult male cats weigh around 1.9 kgs with their female counterparts measuring 1.3 kgs.
- Coat: Their fur varies in color ranging from brown to cinnamon. Their base colors range from much paler in their northern drier areas to reddish- fawn in their southern parts. Their fur is patterned with brown or black spots that merge to form rings on their legs, tails, and necks, and sometimes merge to form bars or stripes. Every coat is unique, meaning they can be used to identify one individual from another.
- Age: In the wild, these cats have a life-term of 8 years, which doubles to 16 years when domesticated or kept in captivity.
Range & habitat
Africa black footed cats are found in only three countries in Southern Africa: Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana. They are mostly found in scrub deserts, sand plains, and short to medium-length grass plains, and are often seen in grassy areas with high densities of their favourite foods – birds and rodents. They are also found in some African deserts, such as the Kalahari in Botswana and South Africa and the Karoo in South Africa.
Their population size is estimated at around 13,867, with about 9,707 estimated to be mature. Because of the species’ patchy distribution, no subpopulation is estimated to contain more than 1,000 adult individuals.
The cats feed mainly on birds, insects, small lizards, and mice. They have adapted well to their dry habitats, and need very little water for their survival.
Behaviour & lifestyle
Black footed cats are known to be primarily terrestrial and nocturnal, sleeping up to 14 hours each day.
Because of their high metabolic rates they can eat up to a third of their body weight per night. When they are satisfied, or their meals are big, they have a tendency to keep leftovers in termite mounds or aardvark digs and caves.
When hunting in areas with little to no cover, black footed cats flatten their ears and keep their body low to the ground. Their hunting tactic is to sneak up on prey and pounce on them instantly. Because of their calculated hunting moves, they are able to catch small birds in flight, but more frequently opportunistically hunt small mammals, insects, and reptiles.
Their sleeping places are mostly unused aardvarks and springhare burrows or rock crevices. Each night on their hunting expedition these small cats can wander up to 20 km from their burrows in search of food. They maintain their home ranges through urine spraying, rubbing on objects, and scent marking such as claw raking and leaving uncovered feces.
Black footed cats are very vocal; they emit loud, deep throat voices, which are frequently repeated during their breeding seasons. Females use soft calls when communicating with kittens.
Males and females are usually solitary except during mating season when they come together to breed. Females of the species have shorter estrus than other cat species, and their gestation periods are about 63-68 days.
Their litter size is usually from one to four, most commonly having two kittens. Kittens are born with their eyes closed and opens as soon as they are six days of age. They are weaned in two months and sexually mature within twelve months.
Fun black footed cat facts
- Black footed cats are one of the deadliest cats, hunting with a success rate of around 60%.
- They’re the smallest cats in Africa with a whole-body length of 50-72 cm.
- They are opportunistic hunters, walking long distances during night hunts.
- They are solitary, with both sexes making urine territories.
- The vision of a black footed cat is around six times better than that of humans.
- In parts of South Africa these cats are called miershooptier, Afrikaans for ‘anthill tiger’.
Meet the black footed cat
Did you enjoy learning more about the black footed cat? Have you ever met this unique creature face-to-face? Tell us about your black footed cat experience in the comment section below. Because those who care share!