Black-Footed Cat
Black-Footed Cat





The Black-Footed Cat is the smallest African cat, and is endemic in the southwest arid zone of the southern African sub-region. It is one of the lesser-studied African carnivores, and is listed as Vulnerable by IUCN since 2002.

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.


The black-footed cat is one of the smallest cat species. Adult resident males weigh on average 1.9 kg (4.2 lb) and a maximum of 2.45 kg (5.4 lb). Adult resident females weigh on average 1.3 kg (2.9 lb) and a maximum of 1.65 kg (3.6 lb). Males reach a head-to-body length of 36.7 to 43.3 cm (14.4 to 17.0 in) with tails 16.4 to 19.8 cm (6.5 to 7.8 in) long. Females are smaller with a maximum head-to-body-length of 36.9 cm (14.5 in) and tails 12.6 to 17.0 cm (5.0 to 6.7 in) long. The shoulder height is about 25 centimeters (9.8 in).

Only the pads and underparts of its feet are black, which gives the black-footed cat its name. The fur varies in color from cinnamon-buff to tawny, and is patterned with black or brown spots that merge to form rings on the legs, neck, and tail. The skin, however, is unpigmented pink, unlike that of other spotted cats. The backs of the rounded ears are the same color as the background coat color. The eyes are very large.


The black-footed cat is endemic to southern Africa, and primarily found in South Africa, Namibia, marginally into Zimbabwe and likely in extreme southern Angola. There are only historical, but no recent records in Botswana. It lives in dry, open savanna, grassland and Karoo semi-desert with shrub and tree cover at altitudes of up to 2,000 m (6,600 ft), but not in the driest and sandiest parts of the Namib and Kalahari Deserts.


Due to their small size, black-footed cats hunt mainly small prey species, such as 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 less than 1% of the prey mass consumed.


Black-footed cats are solitary and strictly nocturnal, thus rarely seen. They spend the day resting in dense cover, in unoccupied burrows of springhares, porcupines and aardvarks, or in hollow termite mounds. They emerge to hunt after sunset.

They are typically found in dry, open habitat with some degree of vegetation cover. Apparently, they get all the moisture they need from their prey, but will drink water when available.

Unlike most other cats, black-footed cats are poor climbers, and will generally ignore tree branches. Their stocky bodies and short tails are not conducive to tree-climbing. They dig vigorously in the sand to extend or modify burrows for shelter.

The cats use scent marking throughout their ranges, with males spraying urine up to 12 times an hour. Other forms of scent marking include rubbing objects, raking with claws, and depositing feces in visible locations. 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, or hiss and growl if threatened.