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Black-Footed Cat Fact File

Felis nigripes

Credit: Charles Barilleaux from Cincinnati, Ohio, United States of America, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Weight

1.5-3kg

(3.25-6.5lbs)

Length

33-50cm

(13-19.75in)

Lifespan

Wild 12 years

Captive 18 years

Diet

Carnivore

Insects, Rodents, Birds

Conservation Status

IUCN

Vulnerable

The black-footed cat is the smallest species of wildcat found in Africa. At the shoulder they stand just 20cm (8in) tall.

Despite their small size these animals are efficient predators. This is necessary due to their high metabolism which means they require 20% of their body weight in food each day. Prey captured includes small mammals, insects, birds and reptiles.

Males maintain a territory which they mark by spraying urine. This behavior increases during breeding season when they mate with the multiple females in their territory. She will go on to produce 1-4 young.

Unfortunately this species is increasingly threatened through habitat loss, removal of burrows through reduction in springhare populations and hunting.

Read on to learn more about these miniature mammals.

Appearance

What does the black-footed cat look like?

The black-footed cat has a coat of pale brown fur across the body. This is patterned with black stripes. These become thicker on the legs and merge in to the black fur on the feet.

These feet are covered by fur which provides protection when walking across surfaces which may become warm in their environment. They also act as sensors for small prey which lives underground.

At the end of the body is a tail which adds between 15 and 20cm (6 and 8in) to their length. This tail has black rings at its tip.

On top of the head is a pair of large ears. These are another adaptation which help them to hear potential prey.

An average black-footed cat will measure 33-50cm (13-19.75in) long with a weight between 1.5 and 3kg (3.25-6.5lbs). At the shoulder they stand 20cm (8in) tall. They are the smallest cat in Africa. Males are typically larger than females.

Diet

What does the black-footed cat eat?


These animals are carnivores. They will feed on a range of invertebrates, rodents, birds and small reptiles. Some will also scavenge for carrion.

Larger prey such as bustards may be taken. When this occurs some may be stored in their burrow for consumption later. When hunting birds they have been recorded to take some in flight.

They are well adapted for life in dry environments and can survive for long periods without drinking water.

Their metabolism is fast and as a result they require around 20% of their body weight in food each night to maintain their weight.

Black Footed Cat (Felis nigripes)

Credit: Ltshears, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Range

Where can you find the black-footed cat?

Black-footed cats are found across southern Africa where they primarily live in Botswana; Namibia and South Africa. Small populations also occur in Angola; Eswatini; Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

They have the most restricted distribution of any of the African cat species.

Habitat

What kind of environment does the black-footed cat live in?

They make their home in savanna, grassland and desert habitats. The favor areas of open habitat with cover for hunting and abundant prey. Most of their range is in dry areas.

These animals make use of the burrows of mammals such as aardvarks and springhares to shelter from the heat of the day. In one instance they were observed nesting in an aardwolf burrow while the aadrwolf was still in residence.

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Reproduction

How does the black-footed cat produce its young?

Breeding can take place year round. Females have a short estrus period of just 1-2 days and will only mate during 5-10 hours of this period. Females and males both have vocalizations that carry over large areas to help them mate.

During the breeding season the male will increase his scent marking behavior.

Males may mate with multiple females each season which live within his territory. Some transient males will still mate with females as they move across their territory.

After mating the male has no involvement in caring for the young.

Between 1 and 4 kittens are born after a 63-68 day gestation period.

At birth the eyes are closed and they do not open till 8 day old. They will first hunt within 4-6 weeks of birth. Weaning takes place within 3-4 months of birth. Their mother may go on to produce a second litter within the same year.

A soft call is produced by the female to communicate with her young.

Sexual maturity is reached at 8-12 months old.

Behavior

What does the black-footed cat do with its day?

These animals are considered solitary and will only come together to mate.

They are active during the night. This is an adaptation which will allow them to avoid the heat of their warm environment.

Each black-footed cat will maintain a home territory. A males territory will cover that of many females.

These animals are successful diggers to help with burrowing. While they can climb this behavior is not commonly seen in this species.

Black Footed Cat (Felis nigripes)

Credit: Charles Barilleaux from Cincinnati, Ohio, United States of America, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the black-footed cat?

Natural predators of the black-footed cat include hyenas, jackals, caracals and birds of prey.

Despite being much smaller multiple observations of this species driving away the larger jackals have been made.

The population of the black-footed cat is believed to be declining and is currently estimated at less than 10,000 mature individuals. This species is difficult to study due to its secretive nature and efforts are ongoing to establish their true population size.

Threats facing this species include disease, unsustainable farming practices and a reduction in available dens due to a reduction in springhare numbers. Springhare numbers do not recover quickly and this will be an ongoing issue.

An increasing threat is the bushmeat trade which is becoming more prevalent in their range. They are also hunted for the taxidermy industry and may be subject to vehicle strikes.

This species has fortunately not been seen to hybridize with domestic cats in the wild unlike other African wildcats.

Quick facts

They may also be known as the small-spotted cat or the anthill tiger. The latter name comes from their habit of seeking shelter in hollowed out termite mounds.

Black Footed Cat (Felis nigripes)

Credit: Zbyszko, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Jackson, T. and Chinery, M., 2012. The illustrated encyclopedia of animals of the world. London: Southwater.

Sliwa, A., Wilson, B., Küsters, M. & Tordiffe, A. 2016. Felis nigripes (errata version published in 2020). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T8542A177944648. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T8542A177944648.en. Downloaded on 06 December 2021.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. 2021. Black Footed Cat – Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. [online] Available at: <https://fossilrim.org/animals/black-footed-cat/> [Accessed 6 December 2021].

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada. 2021. Black-footed Cat – International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada. [online] Available at: <https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/africa/black-footed-cat/> [Accessed 6 December 2021].

Riverbanks.org. 2021. Black-footed Cat :: Riverbanks Zoo & Garden. [online] Available at: <https://www.riverbanks.org/animals/conservation-outpost/black-footed-cat> [Accessed 6 December 2021].

Hoglezoo.org. 2021. Black-footed Cat | Utah's Hogle Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.hoglezoo.org/meet_our_animals/animal_finder/black-footed_cat/> [Accessed 6 December 2021].

Catsg.org. 2021. CatSG: Black-footed cat. [online] Available at: <http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=105> [Accessed 6 December 2021].

Solly, M., 2018. This Petite Cat Is the World's Deadliest. Mini-Series 'Super Cats' Shows You Why. [online] Smithsonian Magazine. Available at: <https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/petite-cat-worlds-deadliest-killing-more-prey-single-night-leopard-does-six-months-180970695/> [Accessed 6 December 2021].

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