Black-footed Cat

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Mammals

iBlack-footed Cat

Conservation status

Vulnerable (VU)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Felis
Species: F. nigripes
Binomial name
Felis nigripes
Burchell, 1824

The Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes) is a small wild cat distributed over South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and marginally into Zimbabwe. The habitat of this cat species are arid semi-desert and savannah, like the Karoo and parts of the highveld, but it is only sparsely distributued in Kalahari Desert. With an average mass of 1.6 kg it is one of the smallest living species of cats. Females have an average weight of 1.3 kg, males 1.9 kg (Sliwa 2004). The head-body length is 36-52 cm, plus 13-20 cm tail, shoulder height is 25 cm. The head appears oversized relative to the rest of the body. The fur is cinnamon buff to tawny or off-white with distinct solid blackish spots which are joined to bands behind the shoulders and that form rings around the legs and tail. As the name implies, the soles of the feet are black. Black-footed cats live solitarily, are active at night and thus rarely seen. In the daytime they hide in springhaas (Pedetes capensis) burrows, under rock slabs and shrubs, and within hollow termitaria.

Due to its small size the black-footed cats hunts mainly small prey species like rodents and small birds, but may also take white-quilled bustards and Cape hares, the latter heavier than themselves. Insects and spiders provide only less than 1% of the prey mass consumed (Sliwa 1994, Sliwa 2006). Black-footed cats are shy animals, that seek refuge at the slightest disturbance. However, when cornered are known to defend themselves fiercely. Due to this habit and their courage they are called Miershoopdier or Anthill Tiger in parts of the south african Karro, although they rarely use termitaria for cover and for bearing their young. In the tales of the San (indigenous hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari) the black-footed cats is an extremeny brave animal, that attacks even Giraffes by piercing their jugular.

Some authors state that they may be relatively common in parts of their range, however, mostly they are considered rare and they were recently listed as vulnereable in the IUCN Red List.

A litter consists usually of two kittens, but may vary from one to four young. A female may have up to two litters during the southern hemisphere spring, summer and autumn. Kittens become independent with about 5 months of age but may still remain within their mother's range.

Within one year a female covers an average range of 10 km², a territorial male 22 km². The range of an adult male overlaps the ranges of 1-4 female Black-footed cats (Sliwa 2004). The animals travel 8 km per night in search of prey. Energetic requirements are very high, with about 250g of prey / night consumed, which is about a sixth of their average body weight.

There are possibly two subspecies: the smaller and paler Felis nigripes nigripes in the northern parts of southern Africa, and Felis nigripes thomasi, slightly larger and of darker colour, distributed in the south-east of South Africa. Specimens with characteristics of both subspecies are found close to Kimberley, central South Africa, where these distinctions break down.

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