Last Updated on April 28, 2024 by themubbi63

The black footed cat (Felis nigripes) has the distinction of being the smallest wildcat in Africa. Because of its tan and black body, this cat is very well camouflaged, especially on moonlit nights. First discovered and described in 1924, in Karoo in South Africa. Unfortunately, their status at the moment is vulnerable because their population is steadily decreasing due to poaching, traffic accidents and predation by larger species.

Appearance of Black footed Cat

The black footed cat has a base color of tawny gold fur but is completely covered in black spots and stripes all over. Their coats are soft but dense. The head is darker than the rest of the body although the inside of the ears are pale. With big ears that have grizzled brown hair, the black footed cat has keen hearing.

The black footed cats that live in the northern parts of its range are lighter in color while in the southern part of the range, they are darker and have much more clearly defined patterns. They also have two black streaks that run from the corner of their eyes towards their cheeks. 

The name ‘black footed cat’ comes from the fact that the undersides of their paws and the pads of their feet are black in color. The skin, on the other hand, is pink in color. This is different from most other wildcats. 


They’re widely considered to be the smallest species of wildcat in Africa, being three times smaller than the African wildcat. While females usually measure between 33.7 and 36.8 cm (13.3 – 14.5 inches) as far as the head and body length is concerned, males measure around 42.5 and 50 cm (16.7 – 19.7 inches). Their tales can be anywhere between 15 and 20 cm (6 – 8 inches). 

Females weigh around 1.1 – 1.65 kg (2.4 – 3.6 lb) while males are slightly heavier, at 1.6 – 2.45 kg (3.5 – 5.4 lb). At the shoulder, most of these cats stand at a height of around 20 cm (8 inches).

Black Footed CatsLengthHeightWeight
MalesHead and body 42.5 – 50 cm (16.7 – 19.7 inches)Tail 15 – 20 cm (6 – 8 inches)20 – 25.4 cm (8 – 10 inches)1.6 – 2.45 kg (3.5 – 5.4 lb)
FemalesHead and body 33.7 – 36.8 cm (13.3 – 14.5 inches)Tail 15.7 – 17 cm (6.2 – 6.7 inches)20 cm (8 inches)1.1 – 1.65 kg (2.4 – 3.6 lb)


Black footed cats are pretty rare in that they’re only found in three countries of southern Africa – South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. However, there are records of it being found in southern Zimbabwe and Angola as well. They have been found in the Drakensburg area at altitudes of 2000 m (6,600 feet) although that’s quite rare for them. 

Black footed Cat Habitat

The preferred habitat of the black footed cat are the open, arid and semi-arid savannas and grasslands in the Karoo. They’re also found in the southwestern Kalahari Desert where short grasses grow. Scrub forests and sandy plains where rodents and birds abound are their favorite places to stay. 

They don’t live in dense jungles or rocky terrains, perhaps because the chances of running into bigger predators is higher in those areas. During the day, they beat the heat by staying in burrows or holes in termite mounds.

They’re a pretty rare species so we don’t have a great deal of information about these cats. Studies show that they’re quite territorial in nature and males have home ranges of around 20.7 square kilometers while for females it’s about 10 square kilometers. A male cat’s territory usually overlaps the territories of four females.

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Behavior and Communication

Like most small cats, black footed cats are solitary in nature. The only time they come together is during breeding season and when mother cats are bringing up kittens. They’re also nocturnal and hunt only after sunset, preferring to spend the day in burrows underground. 

Despite their small size, they’re fierce fighters and will defend themselves with great tenacity. It’s why they’re nicknamed anthill tigers in parts of South Africa, for their ferocity and their tendency to live in termite mounds.

Black footed cats are extremely antisocial animals and they’re rarely seen by humans. The slightest hint of movement is enough to send them fleeing for cover. However, they can call at much louder volumes than most cats of their size to communicate over long distances. At close range, they stick to quiet purrs and gurgles. They’re expressive cats and will hiss or growl if they feel threatened.


A female black footed cat reaches sexual maturity anytime between 8 and 12 months and she can have up to two litters in a year. The period of mating is very short for this species and the female remains in estrus only for a day or two at a time and is only open to mating for a few hours during those days. 

The gestation period is 63 – 68 days and the kittens are born blind. They are completely dependent on their mothers till about three months of age. A litter with one or three kittens is normal but the most common is two kittens. Four kittens is rare. They weigh around 2 – 3 oz at the time of birth.

It takes one week for the eyes of the newborn kittens to open but they develop much more quickly than domestic kittens do because of the dangerous environments that they live in. They start walking at two weeks and are fully weaned by the time they’re two months of age. They begin hunting quite early on and are very sharply attuned to the calls of their mother. Their mode of defense is to scatter and freeze until it’s safe.

The kittens become fully independent by four or five months but may still remain in their mother’s territory for an extended time after that.

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And finally, the conservation of this species is very important because they face several threats from human beings. Not only has overgrazing by livestock led to reduced habitats and a depleted prey base, poaching is also a problem. 

Humans poison carcasses and leave them out for the cats to find. Pesticides to deal with locusts, which are eaten by black footed cats, are a serious problem. Domestic dogs also kill them from time to time. 

Hunting them has been banned in Botswana and South Africa and an effort for conservation is being made. There is hope for the future of these cats. 


The black-footed cat, a tiny titan of the African savanna, captivates with its fierce hunting spirit despite its diminutive size. Sadly, this nocturnal marvel faces threats from habitat loss and human activity. Conservation efforts are crucial to ensure these pint-sized predators continue to grace the African wild for generations to come.


Why are black-footed cats endangered?

Habitat loss, overgrazing by livestock, and poisoning are some threats. Conservation efforts are underway to protect these vulnerable cats.

How big is a black-footed cat?

It’s the smallest wildcat in Africa, about 3 times smaller than the African wildcat. Females are 13-14.5 inches long, while males reach 16.7-19.7 inches.

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