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Black-footed cat

Related subjects: Mammals

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Black-footed Cat
Conservation status

Vulnerable ( IUCN 3.1)
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 habitats of this cat species are arid semi-desert and savannah, like the Karoo and parts of the highveld, but it is only sparsely distributed in the Kalahari Desert. With an average mass of 1.6 kg (3.5 lb) it is one of the smallest living species of cats. Females have an average weight of 1.3 kg (2.9 lb), males 1.9 kg (4.2 lb). The head-body length is 36-52 cm (14-21 in), plus 13-20 cm (5-8 in) of tail and a shoulder height of about 25 cm (10 in). The head appears over-sized 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. The black-footed cat is a solitary animal and is active at night and thus rarely seen. In the daytime it hides in Springhare (Pedetes capensis) burrows, under rock slabs and shrubs, and within hollow termite mounds.

Due to its small size, the black-footed cat hunts mainly small prey species like rodents and small birds, but may also take the White-quilled Bustard and the cape hare, the latter heavier than itself. Insects and spiders provide only less than 1% of the prey mass consumed. The black-footed cat is a shy animal that seeks refuge at the slightest disturbance. However, when cornered it is known to defend itself fiercely. Due to this habit and its courage it is called the "miershooptier" (anthill tiger) in parts of the South African Karoo, although it rarely uses termite mounds for cover and for bearing its young. A San legend claims that the black-footed cat can kill a giraffe by piercing its jugular. This exaggeration is intended to emphasize the bravery and tenacity of the animal.

Some authors state that it may be relatively common in parts of its range, however, mostly it is considered rare and it was recently listed as vulnerable 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 (3.9 sq mi), a territorial male 22 km2 (8.5 sq mi). The range of an adult male overlaps the ranges of 1-4 females The animal travels 8 km (5 mi) per night in search of prey. Energy requirements are very high, with about 250 grams (9 oz) of prey per night consumed, which is about a sixth of its 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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