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Black Footed Cat - Felis nigripes

By: C.M.Shorter

The Black Footed Cat also called the "Ant Hill Tiger" is mighty powerful with its claim to fame being it is perhaps the smallest of all cat species on earth. It rivals only the Rusty Spotted Cat and Kodkod for small stature. This powerful "Small Cat" weighs in at only 2.2 to 5 lbs and has no problem attacking baby sheep more than four times its own weight. Other special adaptations to their harsh desert terrain is a broad skull with large, rounded ears and hair on the black soles of their feet to help absorb the heat of the desert sand. Black Footed cats are known for their tenacity and unsociable disposition, often setting their ears back in an aggressive posture, an adaptation to hunting in areas with little or no ground cover. Sandy in coat color they sport dark spot markings with tails approximately 30 to 50% of their body length with 3-4 dark rings, tapering to a black pointed tip.
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Black Footed Cats make their home in South Africa known to reside in only three countries on the African Continent: Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. These remarkable little creatures share home range with our African Lions and Cheetahs. These special adaptations help them survive in the grass plains, scrub desert and sand plains including the Kalahari and Karoo Deserts. Grassy areas with a high prey density of rodents and birds provides maximum preferred habitat. In order to survive, Black Footed Cats are opportunistic hunters obtaining their moisture requirements mostly from prey, but will drink water when available. Being strictly nocturnal hunters their techniques include the flushing of birds nests, or the "wait and stalk" hunting technique when making a meal of the local rodents or spiders. Larger males are known to take down adult Cape Hares. They may also make a meal of bird or lizard eggs, crushing them gently and devouring the contents. These cats have healthy appetites consuming almost 1/5 of their body weight each night.

These stealth little hunters take residence in termite mound holes or burrows abandoned by other animals and are known to frequent ant hills, which gives them their common name "Ant Hill Tiger". Due to scarcity of prey they must travel far distances each night and they have a "Meow", said to rival the roar of a tiger, being one octave higher which carries over long distances allowing them to communicate with others and locate their mates. Females have an extremely short estrous cycle - only 36 hours and invest very short periods of time breeding. The behavior of a short breeding susceptibility period is typical for a carnivore living in a desert environment with a low food supply. Also, as an exceptionally small animal, they cannot afford to be exposed for any length of time with a number of natural enemies waiting for an opportunity of their own such as venomous snakes, jackals and large night owls. Males and females are solitary coming together only to breed. Once successful in breeding, the mother changes dens frequently with the young developing rapidly and ready to leave the nesting area at only three months of age.

The Black Footed Cat is one of the few "Small Wild Cats" sponsored under the Species Survival Plan (SSP) with their studbook originating at the Frankfurt Zoo in 1988. In the wild, interbreeding with domestic cats has polluted and diluted their wild genetic line. Never common, and ever increasing threats through human intervention in their natural environment has placed the Black Footed Cat on CITES Appendix 1.

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Scientific Name: Felis nigripes
Common Name(s): Black Footed Cat, Ant Hill Tiger
Range: Botswana, Namibia and South Africa
Average Weight: 1 - 2.4kg (2.2 - 5 lbs)
Length: 50 - 63 cm (22 - 25") Tail one-third of body length.
Diet: Carnivorous. Variety of rodents such as mice and gerbils, birds, insects (i.e. spiders, locusts, reptiles & eggs. These cats are known to scavenge other predator's kills.
Gestation Period: 63-68 Days (Eyes open 7 days), weaned at 3 months. Females have 2 litters per year.
Cub Maturity: 12 - 20 Months
Cubs Per Litter: 1 - 4 Kittens
Lifespan: 12-15 years in the wild. There are less than a dozen in Zoological facilities with a high instance of females being killed by their mates. Maximum captive longevity reported of 15 years.
Predators: Venomous Snakes, Jackals, Night Owls. Man. Threat of death by ingesting poisoned prey (especially locusts and caracal carcasses)
Social Structure: Solitary.
Territory Size: 12-15 km (7-8 miles)
Conservation Status: Black Footed Cats are listed on CITES Appendix I. Fully protected in South Africa and Botswana but they receive no legal protection in Namibia.

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