Felis nigripesblack-footed cat

Geographic Range

Black-footed cats are found in the savannas and grasslands of Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, as well as small parts of Angola, Zimbabwe, and possible Lesotho. (IUCN Cat Specialist Group, 1996; Nowak, 1999; Silwa, 2008)


Black-footed cats inhabit dry grasslands, savannas, and deserts of southern Africa. The terrain they inhabit averages 100 to 500 mm of rainfall each year. They create dens in burrows or abandoned termite mounds and also shelter temporarily in dense thickets. (Nowak, 1999; Silwa, 2008)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 2000 m
    0.00 to 6561.68 ft

Physical Description

Black-footed cats are the smallest of African Felis species. The body is covered with light brown hair with black to dark brown spots covering the back, sides, and stomach. Dark brown stripes similar to the spots appear on the cheeks, front legs, haunches, and tail. In addition, the tip of the tail is solid black (about twice the thickness as the stripes around the tail). The tail averages 150 to 200 mm, about half the body length. The bottom of the feet, which are often visible due to their digitigrade style of walking, are black, giving this species its common name. Males are slightly larger than females, averaging 1.93 kg, compared to 1.3 kg for females. (Molteno, et al., 1998; Nowak, 1999; Silwa, 2008)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    1 to 2.75 kg
    2.20 to 6.06 lb
  • Range length
    337 to 500 mm
    13.27 to 19.69 in


Black-footed cats are likely polygynous, as male territories overlap with up to 5 female ranges, while female ranges usually only overlap with one male home range. Prior to mating, female urine-spraying increases to advertise her readiness to the local male. Breeding is the only time that black-footed cats are found associating with each other, except for females and their kittens. Males and females only associate for 5 to 10 hours for mating. (Molteno, et al., 1998; Silwa, 2004; Silwa, 2008)

Black-footed cats mate in the fall, in August and September, giving birth to young in November to December in an underground den. Females may have multiple litters in a year and young have been recorded in dens as late as February. Females average 1 to 3 offspring in each litter (1 to 2 is more typical). Gestation takes 59 to 68 days and females give birth to young from 60 to 88 grams in weight. Young begin to venture out of their den at 3 weeks old and are fully weaned at about 6 weeks old, when they can begin to catch their own prey. Females become mature at 14 to 21 months old. (de Magalhaes and Costa, 2009; IUCN Cat Specialist Group, 1996; Molteno, et al., 1998; Nowak, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Black-footed cats can breed up to 4 times yearly, although fewer litters are more common.
  • Breeding season
    Black-footed cats can breed from the spring to the fall. Mating is most common in the spring.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 3
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    59 to 68 days
  • Average gestation period
    66 days
  • Range weaning age
    30 to 35 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    14 to 21 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    14.8 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    14.5 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    434 days

Female black-footed cats provide all post-copulation investment in offspring. Throughout gestation and lactation, females invest heavily in their young. Starting at about 3 weeks old, females begin to bring back live prey for their offspring to practice catching prey with. During this time females bring back as much as 50% of their catches in a night. Young may inherit territory from their mother. (IUCN Cat Specialist Group, 1996; Nowak, 1999; Silwa, 1999; Silwa, 2008)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • inherits maternal/paternal territory


Little is known about life expectancy in black-Footed cats, but they are thought to live up to 13 years, up to 15.6 years in captivity. (de Magalhaes and Costa, 2009; IUCN Cat Specialist Group, 1996)


Black-footed cats are solitary, only found with other individuals during breeding or as a mother with dependent offspring. A predominantly nocturnal species, they are rarely encountered and take shelter during the day in the burrows of other animals, in dense thickets, or in caves or crevices. (IUCN Cat Specialist Group, 1996; Molteno, et al., 1998; Nowak, 1999; Silwa, 1999; Silwa, 2004; Silwa, 2008)

  • Range territory size
    10 to 20 km^2

Home Range

Male home ranges average 13 to 20 sq km, while female home ranges average 10 to 12 sq km. While overlap between sexes is common, and may make up as much as 50% of a home range, individuals rarely spend significant time together (usually only for breeding). A male's range may overlap with up to 5 separate female ranges. Territory is marked via urine spraying in both sexes, not just at borders, but also at areas commonly used by the individual. One study estimated population density at 0.17 per square kilometer. (IUCN Cat Specialist Group, 1996; Molteno, et al., 1998; Nowak, 1999; Silwa, 1999; Silwa, 2004; Silwa, 2008)

Communication and Perception

Because they are solitary, black-footed cats mostly communicate via scent marking, mainly urine-spraying. Urine-spraying has two main uses; both as advertisement for females to males pre-mating and for territory delineation. Mother and their young communicate vocally. Females scent mark most during times when they are sexually receptive, so it is thought to be mainly to attract male mates. (IUCN Cat Specialist Group, 1996; Molteno, et al., 1998; Silwa, 1999; Silwa, 2004; Silwa, 2008)

Food Habits

Black-footed cats eat a wide variety of small animals, 98% of which are mammals and birds, mammals making up 72% and birds 26% of the diet. Animals weighing less than 40 g made up more than half of their prey base. Larger animals were mainly caught during winter, when smaller prey was unavailable. These larger animals may be cached for later use. The remaining 2% of prey items are made up of small amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates. (Nowak, 1999; Silwa, 2008)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles


Little is known about predation on this species. Unlike many felids, human predation on these cats is relatively rare. Their nocturnal habits, secretive behavior, and spotted coats make it difficult to observe them. ("Utah's Hogle Zoo", 2008)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Black-footed cats are dominant predators of small mammals and birds in areas they inhabit. (Silwa, 1999; Silwa, 2008)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Black-footed cats are important predators of small rodents, which can be crop or household pests or carry diseases.

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no adverse effects of black-footed cats on humans, although they may bite in self-defense, such as when harassed. Their prey are small and do not include human livestock.

Conservation Status

Black-footed cat populations are decreasing due to habitat degradation, threats from hunters, and poisonous baits set for other predators. It is illegal to hunt black-footed cats in Botswana and South Africa. Their range includes several national parks and other wilderness areas, including Addo Elephant National Park, Karoo National Park, Makgadikgadi Pans, and Mountain Zebra National Park. Black-footed cats seem to be more rare than other small, African felids and populations seem to be fragmented. There is little known about their natural history. (IUCN Cat Specialist Group, 1996; Nowak, 1999; Silwa, 2008)


Ian Cheesman (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor, instructor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


having more than one female as a mate at one time

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


2008. "Utah's Hogle Zoo" (On-line). Accessed August 17, 2009 at https://www.hoglezoo.org/meet_our_animals/animal_finder/Black_footed_Cat.

IUCN Cat Specialist Group, 1996. "Felis nigripes" (On-line). IUCN Cat Specialist Group. Accessed September 15, 2009 at http://www.catsg.org/catsgportal/cat-website/catfolk/nigripe1.htm.

Molteno, A., A. Silwa, P. Richardson. 1998. The role of scent marking in free-ranging, female Black-Footed Cat (Felis nigripes). Journal of Zoology, 245: 35-41.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, sixth edition. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Silwa, A. 2004. Home range size and social organization of Black-Footed Cats. Mammalian Biology - Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde, Vol. 69 Issue 2: 96-107.

Silwa, A. 1999. Stalking the Black-Footed Cat. International Wildlife, Vol. 29 Issue 3: 38-43.

Silwa, A. 2008. "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Felis nigripes. Accessed August 07, 2009 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/8542/0.

de Magalhaes, J., J. Costa. 2009. A database of vertebrate longevity records and their relation to other life-history traits. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 22 (8): 1770-1774.