Other Names
small spotted cat (English)
chat à pieds noirs (French)
Schwarzfusskatze (German)
gato patinegro, gato de pies negros (Spanish)
klein gekolde kat, swart poot kat, miershooptier [anthill tiger] (Afrikaans: South Africa)
!koirus (Nama: Namibia)
tutchu (Naron Bushman: Botswana)
sebala, lototsi (Setswana: Botswana)
ingwe yeziduli (Xhosa: South Africa)

Description and Behavior
The black-footed cat is among the world’s smallest felines, with females weighing around 1.2 kg (range 0.8-1.6) and males larger at 1.6-2.1 kg (Smithers 1971, Stuart 1981, Lynch 1983, A. Sliwa in litt. 1993). Total length ranges from 50-63 cm (Smithers 1971), and shoulder height is around 25 cm (Stuart and Wilson 1988). It is boldly patterned with blackish oblong spots, and its legs are barred with thick dark stripes. The undersides of its feet are black, like those of the African wildcat. The auditory bullae are enlarged, with total length about 25% of skull length (Skinner and Smithers 1990).

The diet consists mainly of small mammals and birds, and includes also arachnids, insects and reptiles (Rautenbach 1978, Smithers 1971, Stuart 1981, Sliwa 1994). Radio-collared cats were observed by Sliwa (1994) to catch larks by stalking to within a short range and making a quick run and jump, catching some in the air as they flew off. Small rodents were caught by stalking or waiting (up to 30 min.) at holes. They also fed on emerging alates of the harvester termite, and caught larger winged insects such as grasshoppers. The largest mammal prey was an adult Cape hare, weighing as much as the adult female who caught it (1.5 kg). The largest bird caught was a small bustard, the black koorhaan, weighing 700 g. Black-footed cats have also been observed to eat black koorhaan eggs: "she flushed a female koorhaan from her nest, and then crushed the eggs gently between her jaws and licked their contents clean" (A. Sliwa in litt. 1994). Stuart (1981) reports a black-footed cat trapped with a guinea fowl carcass as bait. A. Sliwa (pers. comm.) has observed black-footed cats cache rodent and bird carcasses in hollows, returning after 2-14 hours to feed, and once observed a cat scavenge for four nights on a springbok lamb.

Most observations in the wild have been at night (Smithers 1971; P. Stander, J. Visser pers. comm.). The cat observed by Sliwa (1993) was generally active between sunset and sunrise, and only during the cold winter months at first light and in late afternoon. The cat was active for most of the night, travelling an average of 8 km while foraging (n=10 nights). Black-footed cats lie up in disused burrows, such as those made by springhares, or in rocky crevices (Shortridge 1934, Sliwa 1993). Black-footed cats are apparently water-independent (Skinner and Smithers 1990). Unusually high blood levels of creatinine and urea (even for arid-adapted cats) have been found in both wild and captive black-footed cats (G. Olbricht and A. Sliwa pers. comm. 1993). Olbricht and Sliwa have also noted that black-footed cats appear to have higher energy requirements than the larger African wildcats.

Birth Season:
A pregnant female carrying two fetuses was collected in South Africa's Transvaal province in November (Rautenbach 1978). A kitten approximately one month old was observed in January in the northern Cape (A. Sliwa in litt. 1993); and two kittens were born in late February in a den in a hollow termite mound in the same area (A. Sliwa in litt. 1994)

Estrus: (C): 1 (Leyhausen and Tonkin 1966) - 5 days

Estrus Cycle: (C): 54 days (Mellen 1989)

Gestation: (C): 63-68 days (Leyhausen and Tonkin 1966)

Litter Size:
1.71+0.18 (n=9: Mellen 1989); range 1-2, rarely 3 (Visser 1977, Armstrong 1978)

Age at Sexual Maturity:
females 12 (Mellen 1989) - 21 months (Leyhausen and Tonkin 1966); onset of spermatogenesis in males at about one year (R. Evans in litt. 1993)

Longevity (C): up to 13 years (Green 1991)

Habitat and Distribution
The black-footed cat is restricted to the arid lands of Southern Africa (Figure 1). It is typically associated with open, sandy, grassy habitats with sparse shrub and tree cover, such as the Kalahari and Karoo regions (Smithers 1971, 1975; Visser 1977, Mills et al. 1984, Stuart and Wilson 1988, Sliwa 1993). A. Sliwa (pers. comm.) describes long grass with high rodent and bird densities as optimal habitat.

The northernmost records are from around 19S in Namibia and Botswana (Shortridge 1934, Visser 1978, P. Stander pers. comm. 1992), although the species may occur in the south-western corner of Angola (Anstey 1992). It has not been recorded from Zimbabwe and Mozambique, although it probably occurs there marginally (Shortridge 1934, Dias 1966, Stuart and Wilson 1988, J. Visser in litt. 1993). A record for Malawi is erroneous (Ansell and Dowsett 1988).

Population Status
Global: Category 2
Regional: Category 1
IUCN: Not Listed

Most authorities have described the black-footed cat as a naturally rare species (Stuart and Wilson 1988, Skinner and Smithers 1990). Shortridge (1934) reported at the turn of the century that mantles made from the skins of this species were expensive, "on account of their scarcity." Still, it is locally common at certain localities in South Africa, especially in the Orange Free State and northern Cape (J. Visser in litt. 1993). Being restricted to arid environments, it probably occurs at relatively low densities. An adult female observed for three months on a game farm near Kimberley (northern Cape, South Africa) had a home range of 12 km2. A young male observed for a shorter period of time maintained a home range of 13 km2, overlapping the female’s range by about 50% (A. Sliwa in litt. 1993).

Protection Status
Protection Status: CITES Appendix I

National Legislation:
Protected across most of its range

Hunting Prohibited:
Botswana, South Africa

No Legal Protection:
Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe
(IUCN Environmental Law Centre 1986; P. Norton, C. Stuart in litt. 1993)

Principal Threats
Indiscriminate methods of predator control could be a significant threat, although farmers seldom report capturing black-footed cats in problem animal surveys (Joubert et al. 1982, Stuart and Wilson 1988). Farmers in South Africa and Namibia consider the similar-looking African wildcat a predator of small livestock, and set out steel-jaw traps and poisoned bait to get rid of them (Joubert et al. 1982, Vorster 1988). Carcass poisoning for jackal control could be a threat to the black-footed cat, which readily scavenges (A. Sliwa pers. comm). A similar threat is poisoning of locusts, which are food for the black-footed cat. 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 (A. Sliwa pers. comm.).

© 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union