Black Footed Cat Facts

Black Footed Cat

Common Name: Black Footed Cat

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata (Vertebrata)

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae

Genus: Felinae (Felis)

Species: nigripes

Life Span: Captive black footed cats have lived up to 13 years.

Sub-Species: Some sources list a southern subspecies, Felis nigripes thomasi, but today many authorities question the validity of this subspecies.

Size and Appearance:  The black-footed cat is perhaps the smallest species of wild cat in Africa, black-footed cats average only 2.4 lb. to 4.2 lb. when fully grown. As with many other animals the females are usually smaller than the males. 

Black Footed Cat

Head and body length (not counting tails): The males are around 14 to 17 inches long. Their tails are about 6 to 8 inches long. Again females are normally smaller than the males.

Height: The males are usually around 8 to 10 inches tall when measuring that the shoulder.

Coloration: Overall they are buff-colored with heavy black oblong spots, and the legs have thick dark stripes or “ring bars” on the legs, the tails and the neck of this fascinating little wild cat.

Paw Coloration: The underside of the paw and the paw pads are black. That is where their name comes from.

Skin Coloration: The skin of these cats are different from other wild cats because their skin is pink.

Ear Coloration: The back of their ears are has the coloration as the background of their coats do.

Eyes: The have really big eyes.

Habitat: Black-footed cats are nocturnal inhabitants of the arid lands of southern Africa, and are typically associated with open, sandy grassy habitats with sparse scrub and tree cover. Although poorly studied in the wild, optimal habitat seems to be savannah areas having long grass with high rodent and bird densities. During the day, they live in abandoned burrows dug or in holes in termite mounds.

During the course of a year males will travel up to 8.5 sq. mi. while females travel up to 4 sq. mi. A male’s territory overlaps the territories of one to four females.

Distribution: Black-footed cats are native to arid regions of the southern parts of Africa like Nambia, Zimbabwe, Angola but not is the driest or sandiest parts of the Namib or Kalahari deserts. Before its numbers decreased so much it had once been known to inhabit Botswana. Sadly, none have been seen in Botswana for a long time.

Reproduction: Females reach sexual maturity at about 8 to 12 months. They are in estrus for only a day to two at a time during which on a few hours of that are they receptive to mating. They can have two litters a year.

Offspring: Females usually have 2 kittens but sometimes have three kitten or just 1 kitten. It is quite rare but it happened that there were four kittens in a litter. Gestation is about 63-68 days. Kitten weigh about 2 to 3 ounces at birth. Kittens are blind and totally dependent on their mothers.

Black-footed kitten develop more quickly than domestic kittens. They have to because the environment they live in can be dangerous. They start walking at about two weeks of age. When they are about a month old they start eating solid food and are weaned at about two months of age.

Kittens are born and raised is a burrow type den. Mothers will often move the kittens to new locations after they are about a week old.

They are independent when they are four or five months old. They may remain in their mother’s territory for a while after becoming independent.

Social System Behavior and Communication: Little is known about this species but like most other small cats, black-footed cats are solitary and come together only for breeding. Black footed cats are extreme unsocial. These cats are rarely ever seen. They will flee and take cover at the smallest hint of something or someone coming.

Their calls are louder than those of other cats of their size, presumably to allow them to call over relatively large distances. However, when close to each other, they use quieter purrs or gurgles. If they feel threatened they will hiss and even growl.

It is believed they are strictly nocturnal being active between sunset and sunrise. During the daylight hours they rest is densely covered areas. They have been known to spend the daytime hours in unoccupied burrows of springhares, porcupines and aardvarks. They will dig in the sand to adjust those burrow and dens to get them just the way they want them. They have also been found resting in hollow termite mounds during the day.

If a black footed cat is cornered they can be quite fierce. Because of that behavior they are sometimes called miershooptier when translated means ‘anthill tigers’.

They mark their territories with scent by spraying urine. Males may spray up to a dozen times in an hour. They also scent mark by clawing and rubbing on things. They will also mark their territories by leaving their poop where others can easily see it.

Hunting and Diet: In nature, their diet consists mainly of small mammals and birds, insects, arachnids, and reptiles. In captivity many cats are fed commercial feline diets and mice, and further investigation into their nutritional requirements is warranted. They hunt by a stalk, run and pounce method, or they wait outside of rodent holes for their prey. They can travel up to 5 miles a night while hunting.

They have higher energy requirements than the other African cats because of this they may kill and eat 14 small prey animals in a night.

They usually hunt rodents and small birds. Although it is not their preferred prey they are capable to taking down white quilled bustards. Even though the Cape hare is larger than the black footed cat it can take one down.

They will occasionally hide some of their dinner for later.

These cats hunt by stalking and sneaking up on their prey. Sometimes, instead of stalking they will flush their prey out of their cover and pounce on it.

They have been observed waiting quietly with their eyes closed outside of rodent dens and burrows. Their eyes may be closed but they are not sleeping. Every sense is awake and alert just waiting for the slighted sound or movement of the emerging prey animal.

Interesting Notes:

Something that is different about black-footed cat is that they are poor climbers. They are not interested in tree branches. The reason for that is their stocky bodies and short tails make tree-climbing awkward.

They get all the moisture they need from their prey, but will drink water when it’s available.

The black footed cat is known for its bravery and tenacity.

Principal Threats: Little is known about their real status in the wild, and farmers seldom report capturing black-footed cats in problem animal surveys. Indiscriminate methods of predator control may be a significant threat as poison baits and traps set for African wildcat and jackal could easily be a threat because black-footed cats readily scavenge. A similar threat is poisoning locusts which are a preferred food. They have few natural enemies in agricultural areas except jackals and caracal, and may be more common than originally suspected. The loss of grassland due to overgrazing by livestock is prevalent throughout the species’ range may well be their biggest threat, as may be habitat deterioration that led to reductions of the cat’s small vertebrate prey base.

Status: Is listed as Vulnerable by IUCN since 2002. The black-footed cat is one of the lesser studied wild cats of Africa. Felis nigripes is included on CITES Appendix I and protected by national legislation across most of its range. Hunting is banned in Botswana and South Africa.

Felid TAG 2003 recommendation: Black-footed cat (Felis nigripes). One of the most popular small-sized felids, the black-footed cat has unique renal concerns that may be stress or diet- related. These problems may be detrimental to longevity in zoos. Recent research holds promise for this species, and additional importations are possible. With both a regional and international studbook in place, an SSP is recommended with a target population of 80 individuals.

How rare is this cat ? The International Species Information Service lists 21 worldwide in cages, with 21 being in the U.S.

Information taken from IUCN Status Survey and Feline Facts (SOS Care)

Buy the Black Footed Cat Book on Amazon

Photo above by Peking Zoological Gardens

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  1. Might there be black-footed kitties loose in the US?
    We rescued a momcat + 4 kittens, last May, & she littered a 2nd batch.
    Momcat looked like the proverbial “made of whatever scraps were available at end of day”: short hair on some areas, long hair or mixed on other areas; kinda circle-spots in a couple areas but stripes on other areas; color sorta like a tiger but, hints of orange on her butt, & some white; a long-ish tail with long hair, mostly held upright, except for the last few inches, which she flipped back & forth like teaser-bait. She was also extremely chatty, with a very wide range of vocalizations.
    Smaller than the usual cats we’ve had over the past 70 years…biggish ears set kinda low, & black on bottom of feet. EXTREMELY smart, she behaved in ways that said she was “in-charge”, minding the whole farm.
    Extraordinarily good hunting ability: brought rodents, a squirrel, & a small rabbit back to the patio to feed her kittens, in addition to the kibble we offered. She stood her ground when a juvenile raccoon came to eat their kibble. She made deliberate, calculated choices.
    3 of her 1st batch are still here: 2 mostly gray, but bits of white, 1 kinda striped that turned mostly black, adopted by our housemates. Those grays seem to have light skin & some black on bottom of feet, & the striped one turned mostly black, can’t tell about feet. But pink skin.
    Her 2nd in August…2 grays (w/some black-bottom feet), 2 tiger striped (with pronounced black-bottom feet), & 2 tortoise.
    We kept one gray & 1 tiger. The momcat & rest of kittens went via cat rescue; ALL had some amounts of black-bottomed feet, & pretty sure all have pink skin, some spots, big ears.
    Our smaller-than-average gray has “ghost stripes” on top, but spots on tummy; can’t see stripes if looking at her from the front, but looking at her from back, she’s clearly striped. She has some amount black-bottom feet, pink skin, big ears set kinda low.
    The Tiger one has decidedly black-bottom feet. His coloring has darkened a lot since birth.
    The black-bottom feet include the pads, & a couple inches back, very thick fur there. Ears larger, but not very low-set. Some spots on tummy. Pink skin.
    These kittens are very active a few times a night (been sequestered in 2 rooms since birth—reasons), & a couple periods of “zoomies” in daytime. Good climbers, very good hunters (acute hearing: can hear fingers moving slowly in air, totally hidden by thick blankets), & rank among the smarter kitties we’ve had. But, the only black-bottomed feet we’ve ever seen.
    Both are fearless about leaping about 5’ up, or “flying” 5’ or so to leap from furniture or high shelves. One mastered walking on wire shelving. But all of them have longish legs.
    It wouldn’t be a surprise at all, if there have been at least a few black-footed cats running feral in the US, interbreeding with other cats….UNLESS someone knows of OTHER cats with these features?? (Pink skin, at least some spots, big low-set ears, black-bottom feet, & good hunters & leapers).

    1. Hello, I agree with you 100%! I’m curious what state you’re in. I’m on the east coast and found a stray just before Christmas. Everything about her is identical…spots on sides, striped left & neck and bottoms all 4 paws are black including pads. I’m taking her into the vet next week for her shots and bloodsork so maybe I’ll get some clarification there. She’s an absolute sweetheart with me.

  2. As usual it is man who endangers such species. We should not wait to help them back to better numbers by trying to help them prologase. Should we take the wait and see attitude like we have done with the share, the sea turtles and many other species. Farmers should be edúcate and punished as well when they take that selfish attitude and kill animals who have as much right to live as humans do.

  3. Sherrie Buck Also, I can say without the slightest doubt that the USA is pretty much the only country that cares about conservation, and is certainly the largest donor in terms of raw $$$ to conservation and preservation causes….so you can stfu with that.

    1. CHRIS LAFFERTY, uhmmm…

      SHERRIE BUCK said,
      “It is sad that in the USA it is okay to own so many exotic animals!”

      SHE’S RIGHT !
      You had no justifiable reason to attack her. With your, *STFU*
      I know that there are people who want to own wild animals & problematic hybrids due to their inferiority complexes &/or small penises. Some are just looking for a disgusting way to make money by breeding animals who suffer.
      But intelligent people who take the time to do sufficient research would not own any of those are animals. Many, because they actually care about the those animals.

      And FYI…(your comment)
      *the USA is pretty much the only country that cares about conservation…largest donor…bla,bla,bla*

      It took me awhile to stop laughing before I could respond to that comment, but your knowledge of worldwide animal conservation is sadly lacking.

      Now the US, under Trump, has done the exact opposite of contributing to conservation. By removing many vital protections for Animals worldwide.

  4. Lyndsey Jayne Meredith Yes…poisoning and disappearing habitat is the primary cause of its vulnerable status. There are maybe ~10,000 left in the wild, which is down by a TON from 10 years ago.

  5. Sherrie Buck Irresponsible people anywhere in the world are just sad, ill agree. BUT, i can tell you that anyone here that spends $5000.00 or more on a Safari cat or other hybrid takes VERY good care of them. About the only thing you hear, occasionally, is that someone gets in over there head by not being able to provide a proper environment for say, a Serval or suchlike.

  6. Sad that anyone would keep / sell these as pets …. but indeed I ran into a women at the Vet yesterday (3.11.14) who had a 3 week old kitten (I saw it – fierce and hissing – but cute as hel_) and was shipping it out to MN (I am in AZ) as a pet. When I asked her about it she told me she had 8 more (adults) at home.

    I only found this site as I wanted to research the species to see if she was doing anything illegal (apparently not) and really do not know if BCR endorses the breeding / sale of these (and other) wild animals – if so I would only urge them not to.

    The Vet office I was at was only where I get my dogs groomed – I have 3 – a rescue "mutt" and two older Bichons as well as a rescue (domestic) cat.

    Anyway, I am going to contact me Vet to see what her opinion is of this other Vet's active participation in the sale of this women's wild cats (they were handling the shipping of it to MN). I am also going to find another groomer – I just cannot in good conscience support in any way a Vet who would help this women sell these wild animals to private parties.

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