Black-footed Cat

Black-footed Cat


South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and marginally in Zimbabwe and Angola.


Steppe and Savanna


Black footed cats are one of the smallest cats in the world. They have a broad skull with large prominent ears and can weigh 2-5 pounds. Their coat is light brown with dark spots in rows on their body that merge at times to form rings. Two dark streaks cross each cheek and dark bars are found on forelegs and haunches. Legs have wide black rings and the characteristically short tail is less than 40%of their head-body length. Their name is derived from the hair on the black soles which protects them from the hot terrain.

Black-footed Cat

Black-footed cats are nocturnal and primarily terrestrial. Due to a high metabolic rate, these cats can consume a third of their body weight every night, and rarely sleep more than 14 hours a day. If a meal is too large they often hide leftovers in aardvark digs or termite mounds. As an adaptation for hunting in areas with little or no cover, black-footed cats will flatten their low set ears in an aggressive posture and crouch low to the ground. They are active and successful hunters, sneaking up on prey and then pouncing. They are even known to catch birds in flight. Being opportunistic hunters, they will eat a variety of small mammals, birds, insects and reptiles. They often sleep in unused aardvark and springhare burrows, rock crevices, or termite mounds during the day. Black-footed cats frequently move great distances in the wild to hunt. Females can have a home range of up to 8 square miles and the males range can be more than double that of females. Their ranges are maintained through scent marking (urine spraying, rubbing on objects, claw raking and leaving feces uncovered). Females can spray up to 100 times a night when staking out their territories against other females. Males on the other hand can mark up to a record 600 times a night when advertising to females. These cats are very vocal; they emit a loud and deep throaty "rraaouuh," which they frequently repeat during breeding season. The females also use a soft call with kittens.


Black-footed cats are usually solitary, with male ranges overlapping several smaller female ranges. These cats only come together for mating. The females of this species have a shorter estrus than most small cats and a gestation period of 63-68 days. Litter size can be one to four, with two being most common. The kittens are born with their eyes closed, which can open as fast as six day after birth. They are weaned within two months and sexually mature at eight to twelve months.

Interesting Facts:

Foke lore has it that black-footed cats have been known to leap on the neck of a giraffe to bring it down. The Black-footed cat is also known as meirshooptier (anthill tiger) because of its habitat of sleeping in hollowed out termite mounds. African names include: swait poot kat, koirus, tutchu, sebala, lototsi, ingwe yeziduli, bunt-kat.

About Our Animals:

Utah's Hogle Zoo is fortunate to be one of the few facilities participating in the "Species Survival Plan" (a cooperative breeding program among designated Zoos) for these animals. We are currently a breeding facility for black-footed cats, with our first kitten born April, 2009.

Black-footed Cat

Black-footed cats are naturally rare, though somewhat more common in certain parts of South Africa. They are the most rare and secretive African cat species. Because of this, in part, they are poorly studied in the wild, with no accurate estimate of wild population status. Though they are not generally hunted for pelts, like other African cat species, black-footed cats face many difficulties in the wild. They may be caught by farmers practicing predator control with poisoned bait and steel-jaw traps for African wild cats and jackals. Locust poisoning affects their survival because these are prey items for the cats. They are also dealing with habitat deterioration from overgrazing by livestock. They are protected across most of their range and hunting them is prohibited in Botswana and South Africa. Black-footed cats can be difficult to keep in captivity. Right now there are only about 75 cats in zoos worldwide, with just over 20 in nine AZA zoos in the United States.

Did YOU Know?    
Black-footed cats are named for the soles of their feet, which are black, not for the color of their paws.
Black-footed Cat
Class: mammals
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Felis
Species: nigripes
Length: Head and body length: 15-18 inches; tail length 7 inches
Height: 10 inches
Weight: 2-5 pounds
Average Lifespan: 6.5 years
Wild Diet: Rodents, lizards, insects and birds
Zoo Diet: Specialized feline/carnivore diet.
Predators: Larger carnivores (jackals, snakes and birds of prey)

This is an ssp animal

USFWS Status: Endangered
CITES Status: Appendix I
Where at the Zoo? Small Animal Building

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