Animal Info - Black-footed Cat

(Other Names: !koirus, Bont-kat, Chat Pieds Noirs, Gato de Pies Negros, Gato Patinegro, Ingwe Yeziduli, Klein Gekolde Kat, Lototsi, Miershooptier, Schwarzfusskatze, Sebala, Small-spotted Cat, Swart Poot Kat, Tutchu)

Felis nigripes

Status: Vulnerable


Contents

1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Taxonomy, Population Estimates, Distribution, Threats)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Size and Weight, Habitat, Age to Maturity, Gestation Period, Birth Season, Birth Rate, Early Development, Maximum Age, Diet, Behavior, Social Organization, Density and Range)
5. References


Profile

Pictures: Black-footed Cat #1 (9 Kb JPEG) (Big Cats Online); Black-footed Cat #2 (19 Kb JPEG) (IUCN Cat Spec. Gr.); Black-footed Cat #3 (17 Kb GIF) (Tigerhomes) 

The black-footed cat is one of the smallest cat species, weighing about 2 kg (4 lb).  It has rounded ears, very large eyes, and a short, black-tipped tail. The background color of its coat varies from cinnamon-buff to tawny, and the fur is patterned with conspicuous black or brown spots that merge to form bands or rings on the legs, neck, and tail. The black-footed cat is restricted to the arid lands of southern Africa. It is typically associated with open, sandy, grassy habitats with sparse shrub and tree cover.

Small birds and mammals constitute about half of the total weight of prey eaten by the black-footed cat. Large prey such as bustards and hares contribute about a third of the total, and carrion about 15 %. During a typical night’s hunting, a black-footed cat kills and eats a bird or a mammal about every 50 minutes on average, killing 10 - 14 birds and mammals a night. This amounts to about 20 % of the cat’s body weight. The black-footed cat apparently gets all the moisture it needs from its prey. However, it will drink water when it is available. The black-footed cat is extremely secretive and is rarely seen. It is strictly nocturnal, spending the day resting in dense cover or in unoccupied burrows or abandoned termite mounds. The black-footed cat is an extremely active and successful hunter, making roughly 1 hunting attempt every 30 minutes during the night, with a 60 % success rate. It hunts throughout the night in all weather conditions.  

The black-footed cat is found in three countries in southern Africa: Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. It is restricted to the more arid areas in this region. It is generally considered to be a naturally rare species, although it is locally common in some areas. Since it is restricted to arid environments, it probably occurs at relatively low densities. 

Indiscriminate methods of predator control could be a significant threat to this cat. Farmers in Namibia, and South Africa consider the similar-looking African wildcat to be a predator of small livestock. In order to get rid of the African wildcat, the farmers set out steel-jaw traps and poisoned bait, which could also harm the black-footed cat. The poisoning of locusts, which are food for the black-footed cat is also a threat. Finally, overgrazing by livestock is prevalent throughout the black-footed cat's range, and habitat deterioration can lead to reductions of its prey.


Tidbits

*** Cat Tidbit #4: Cats are sometimes called "hypercarnivores" because they need a much higher proportion of protein in the diet than almost any other mammal. For a domestic cat to remain healthy, its diet must contain 12 % protein (by weight) for adult cats and 18 % for kittens. Dogs can survive on much less; adult dogs can get by with only 4 % protein.. (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002) (See Cat Tidbit #5.)

*** Which cat species is the smallest is still open to discussion, with the black-footed cat, kodkod (Chilean cat/guigna), and rusty-spotted cat all candidates for the title (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002).

*** The Afrikaans name for this cat, "miershooptier," means "anthill tiger", because of the black-footed cat’s habit of sleeping in hollowed-out termite mounds (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002).

*** A Bushman legend suggests that the black-footed cat can even kill a giraffe. While this is an obvious exaggeration, the black-footed cat has a well-established reputation for being fierce, even as a tiny kitten. One observer watched a 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) female black-footed cat spend half an hour carefully stalking an 80 kg (176 lb) male ostrich sitting on a nest. As the cat was about to pounce, the bird stood up, revealing feet that were longer than the cat’s body, then bolted in a cloud of dust. (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)

*** Historical accounts describe the black-footed cat killing sheep and goats by fastening onto the neck and hanging on until the jugular vein is pierced. (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)


Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

[The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature; also called the World Conservation Union) is the world’s largest conservation organization. Its members include countries, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations.  The IUCN determines the worldwide status of threatened animals and publishes the status in its Red List.]

  • 1996: Lower Risk/least concern
  • 2002 - 2005: Vulnerable; (Criteria: C2a(i)) (Population Trend: Decreasing) (IUCN 2005) 

Countries Where the Black-footed Cat Is Currently Found:

2005: Occurs in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.  May occur in Angola. (IUCN 2005)

Taxonomy:

Recent genetic analyses have lead to the proposal that all modern cats can be placed into eight lineages which originated between 6.2 - 10.8 million years ago. The black-footed cat is placed in the "domestic cat lineage," which diverged from its ancestors as a separate lineage 6.2 million years ago. The domestic cat lineage also includes the domestic cat, the European wild cat, the African wild cat, the desert cat, the Chinese mountain cat and the jungle cat. (Johnson et al. 2006)

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]

Distribution:

The black-footed cat is found in three countries in Africa: Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. It is restricted to the more arid southern and central parts of southern Africa, from the western and southern coasts of the Cape Province to the Orange Free State, Transvaal, and across Botswana south of the Okavango Delta to eastern Namibia. Although it is generally described as a naturally rare species, the black-footed cat is locally common at certain localities in South Africa, especially in the Orange Free State and northern Cape Province. Since it is restricted to arid environments, it probably occurs at relatively low densities. (Nowell & Jackson 1996, Sunquist & Sunquist 2002, IUCN 2005)

Distribution Map #1 (2 Kb GIF) (Big Cats Online)
Distribution Map #2 (54 Kb JPEG) (AZA Felid TAG)

Threats:

Indiscriminate methods of predator control could be a significant threat, although farmers seldom report capturing the black-footed cat in problem animal surveys. Farmers in Namibia, and South Africa consider the similar-looking African wildcat to be a predator of small livestock. In order to get rid of the wildcat, the farmers set out steel-jaw traps and poisoned bait, which could also harm the black-footed cat. Carcass poisoning for jackal control may also be a threat to the black-footed cat, which readily scavenges. The poisoning of locusts, which are food for the black-footed cat is also a threat. Finally, overgrazing by livestock is prevalent throughout the species range, and habitat deterioration can lead to reductions of the cat’s small vertebrate prey base. (Nowell & Jackson 1996, IUCN 2005)


Data on Biology and Ecology

Size and Weight:

The head and body length of a black-footed cat is 35 - 45 cm (14 - 18"). Females weigh 1.0 - 1.6 kg (2.2 - 3.5 lb), while males weigh 1.5 - 2.4 kg (3.3 - 5.3lb). (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)

Habitat:

The black-footed cat is restricted to the arid lands of southern Africa. It is typically associated with open, sandy, grassy habitats with sparse shrub and tree cover, such as the Kalahari and Karoo regions. One researcher described long grass with high rodent and bird densities as optimal habitat. (Nowell & Jackson 1996)

The black-footed cat is found in the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany and Succulent Karoo Biodiversity Hotspots (Cons. Intl. 2005).  

Age to Maturity:

Recent reports on the age at sexual maturity for female black-footed cats vary from 8 - 12 months. This seems more likely than the age of 21 months previously reported (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002).

Gestation Period:

Gestation lasts between 63 - 68 days, nearly a week longer than in the domestic cat (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002).

Birth Season:

A pregnant female carrying two fetuses was collected in South Africa's Transvaal Province in November. A kitten approximately one month old was observed in January in the northern Cape Province; and two kittens were born in late February in a den in a hollow termite mound in the same area. (Nowell & Jackson 1996) Mating of two different black-footed cat pairs was observed in early August in Kimberley, South Africa (Sliwa 1997).

Birth Rate:

In the wild, five different litters of two kittens each were recorded (Sliwa 1997). In captivity, there are 1 - 4 kittens in a litter. The average size of 164 captive-born litters was 1.78 kittens. (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)

Early Development:

Captive-born black-footed cat kittens develop slightly faster than domestic kittens. Four-day-old black-footed cat kittens have been observed crawling out of the maternity den. They can walk unsteadily but fast at 2 weeks of age and begin to climb a week later. By the time they are a month old, the kittens spend much of their time playing and start to show an interest in solid food. At about 5 weeks the mother starts to bring live prey to the den. The kittens can run well by the time they are 6 weeks old and no longer regard the nest as a refuge. They are weaned by 2 months of age. (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)

Maximum Age:

Up to 13 years in captivity (Nowell & Jackson 1996).

Diet:

A multi-year study of 19 radio-collared black-footed cats by A. Sliwa provides most of the information on the diet of this cat in the wild. Measured by weight, small birds, small mammals (e.g. gerbils, mice and shrews) and insects were the main food: 53 % of the total weight of prey consumed consisted of creatures weighing less than 30 - 40 g (1.1 - 1.4 oz) (the number of insects eaten was large, but they amounted to only 2% of the weight of prey). Large prey such as bustards and hares contributed 32 %, and carrion 15 %, to the total weight of prey eaten. These large carcasses weigh half to twice the cat’s body weight - an unusual situation among small cats, which typically sustain themselves on prey weighing less than a tenth of their own weight. (Sliwa 1994, Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)

During a typical night’s hunting, a black-footed cat would kill and eat a bird or a mammal every 50 minutes on average, killing 10 - 14  birds and mammals a night. This represents approximately 0.25 - 0.3 kg (0.6 - 0.7 lb) of food, or about 20 % of the cat’s body weight. This is an enormous amount of food for a cat to eat on a daily basis. Large cats such as tigers typically eat 20 % of their body weight in one night when feeding on a large kill, but then they go for several days between kills without eating. (Sliwa 1994, Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)

The black-footed cat apparently gets all the moisture it needs from its prey. However, it will drink water when it is available. (Sliwa 1994, Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)

Behavior:

The black-footed cat is extremely secretive and is rarely seen. It is strictly nocturnal, spending the day resting in dense cover or in unoccupied springhare, porcupine, or aardvark burrows or abandoned termite mounds, and emerging to hunt only after sunset. (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)

In the wild, the black-footed cat is reported to rear its young in burrows, and young kittens have been found in termite mounds and hollows (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002).

One black-footed cat traveled an average of 8 km/night (5 mi/night) (maximum = 16 km (10 mi)) over a span of 10 nights while foraging (Nowell & Jackson 1996).

The black-footed cat is an extremely active and successful hunter, making roughly 1 hunting attempt every 30 minutes during the night, with a 60 % success rate. The cat hunts throughout the night, in all weather conditions, and in temperatures ranging from -10 to +30EC (14 - 86EF) . When hunting small birds, the cat stalks as close as possible, then makes a quick run and launches itself at the bird with a great jump, up to 2 m (6.6') long in some cases and 1.4 m (4.6') high. It has been observed to cache small prey and to cover the remains of larger carcasses, behavior that has not been reported for other small cats. (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)

Social Organization:

The social organization of the black-footed cat follows the typical cat pattern. Male home ranges overlap several smaller female home ranges, with little or no overlap between the home ranges of adults of the same sex. (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)

The black-footed cat is solitary. Even opposite sexes evidently come together only for 5 - 10 hours. (Nowak 1999)

As is the case with other cat species, an adult black-footed cat maintains its home range by scent marking, including urine spraying, scent rubbing on objects, claw raking, and leaving its feces uncovered (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002).

Density and Range:

Density

In one study the population density of the study area was estimated as 0.13 adult cats/sq km (0.34 adult cats/sq mi) (Sliwa 1997).

Range

Home ranges of female black-footed cats have been estimated at 3.1 - 11.9 sq km (1.2 - 4.6 sq mi), whereas male home ranges are 10.4 - 16.8 sq km (4.0 - 6.5 sq mi) (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002).

References

AZA Felid TAG, Big Cats Online, Cons. Intl. 2005, IUCN 2005, IUCN Cat Spec. Gr., Johnson et al. 2006, Nowak 1999, Nowell & Jackson 1996, Sliwa 1994, Sliwa 1997, Sunquist & Sunquist 2002, Tigerhomes

 


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