BLACK-FOOTED CAT

QUICK FACTS

Scientific Name

Felis nigripes

Species Survival Plan

Yes

Habitat

Scrub desert and sandy or grassy plains

Predators

Hyena, jackal and larger birds of prey

Food

Wild - rodents, birds, spiders, insect and small reptiles
Captivity - mice, chicks and commercially prepared meat with added vitamins and minerals

Originally Native To

South Africa, Botswana and Namibia

Height

8 inches at the shoulders

Weight

2 - 5 lb.

Characteristics

Cinnamon to tawny coat with dark brown to black spots that merge to form dark bands or rings on the chest, legs and tail; short, black-tipped tail with 2-3 black rings near the tip; low-set, flattened ears and large eyes; black pads and dark fur on the underside of feet

Gestation Period

63 - 68 days

Offspring

1 - 4 with most litters being 2

Birth Season

Any month

Lifespan

Wild 13 years
Captivity 18 years

Social Behavior

Solitary except for a short period of time for breeding and when a mother is rearing young

iucn_badge_vulnerable

ABOUT THE BLACK-FOOTED CAT

The black-footed cat, or small-spotted cat, is one of the smallest cat species in the world. Weighing in at 2-5 pounds and measuring 14-20 inches in length, they are the smallest felids in Africa. Despite their small size, they are quite tenacious and have been known to defend themselves against jackals that are eight times their size.

Black-footed cats are indigenous to the scrub desert regions of southern Africa and are only found in three countries: South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. They are well-adapted to survive in this region. Their name comes from the black pads and thick, black hair on the soles of their feet, which help protect them from the hot sand.

They also have a broad skull with large, rounded ears that give them exceptional hearing to find prey in scarcely populated areas. Their low-set ears are usually flattened in an aggressive posture, which helps them blend in while hunting in areas with limited cover.

Even with their small size, they have very large home ranges that cover up to 12.5 square miles. Each night, they travel as many as 10 miles while they hunt for food. Black-footed cats have a very high metabolism and need to eat 20 percent of their body weight each day.

To accomplish this, they hunt 70 percent of the night and have a successful hunt every 30-50 minutes. In a single night, one black-footed cat will consume 10-14 rodents and birds.

They are very efficient hunters and use three different techniques: a fast-moving hunt that flushes prey out of hiding; a slow, stalking, serpentine movement in which they silently move back and forth from one visual barrier to another until they are within a few meters of their prey before attacking; and a sit-and-wait approach where they will patiently linger outside of a rodent den until it emerges.

This species is completely solitary except for a short period of time during breeding or when a female is raising young. Females have a very short estrus period that only last 1-2 days and are only receptive to males for 5-10 hours during that time. With large home ranges and a short breeding period, the black-footed cat has an effective vocalization that carries over long distances to help locate one another.

The male emits a loud, deep call repeatedly during the breeding period. Scent marking also increases during this time, and a male will spray his territory on average 100-200 times a night with some males spraying up to 600 times in one night. Females also mark their territory during this time and will spray up to 100 times a night. Females can have two litters annually.

Gestation is 63-68 days and a female will give birth to 1-4 kittens with an average litter size of two. At birth, kittens only weigh 2-3 ounces, but they develop quickly. Kittens are weaned at 2-3 months.

At this time, the mother will start to bring live prey back to the den for the kittens to kill. The kittens become independent at 3-4 months old and reach sexual maturity between 8-12 months of age.

Black-footed cats are very secretive in the wild, and most of what is known about them has come from a few ongoing field studies. Population estimates in 2015 were about 10,000 in the wild. Major threats to this species are deforestation, overgrazing by livestock leading to a reduced prey base and indirect poisoning.

Fossil Rim takes part in the black-footed cat SSP and is currently home to a breeding pair that is located in our Intensive Management Area (IMA). The black-footed cats can be seen on our Behind-the-Scenes Tour.

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As a private nonprofit corporation, Fossil Rim does not receive national or state government support. Every cent spent or donated here goes in some way, directly or indirectly, toward the care of our animals.