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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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Photo above by Peking Zoological Gardens