Black-footed Cat, Small-spotted Cat

(Felis nigripes)


Black-footed Cat, Small-spotted Cat IUCN VULNERABLE (VU)


Facts about this animal

The Black-footed cat is the smallest cat species of Africa and one of the smallest wild cat species in the world, with average shoulder height of 26 cm and head-body length of 42 cm. Their low-slung and stocky form is an adaptation to slip through short grass and dwarf bushes while finding refuge in the burrows of springhares, or inside hollow termite mounds, both when in danger from larger carnivores and for retiring during the daylight hours. Adult females average 1,3 kg, males 1,9 kg reaching a maximum of only 2,5 kg. The head is broad with pronounced large ears. Adults are attractively patterned with black blotches on the body, which join to bands on the shoulders and back. The legs are ringed with broad black bands. The tail is characteristically short, less than 40% of the head-body length, between 14-20 cm. The ground colour of adults varies from off-white to reddish tawny.


Gestation period is 63-68 days and the birth weight averages 77 g. The kittens are born with eyes closed, which they open between days 3-10. Kittens in their native South Africa are born in the warmer months of the year, between September and May. In captivity kittens are born year-round. Litter size averages 2 but may vary between 1-4. Sexual maturity (in captivity) is seven months for females and nine months for males.


Black-footed cats are mostly crepuscular and nocturnal and their social system conforms to the typical solitary feline system, with females maintaining almost mutually exclusive home ranges from other females, which are over lapped by male ranges. Annual home range size is 10 km² for females and 22 km² for males. They are highly opportunistic hunters taking mostly vertebrates. 72% of their diet is comprised of mammals, 26 % birds, 2 % invertebrates. During one night they travel distances of 8-20 km, leaving up to 600 urine spray marks.


Longevity in human care is up to 16 years, while cats in the wild probably only live to 4-6 years.

Did you know?
That wild black-footed cats have stalked breeding ostriches? This bold behaviour probably led to the San bushmen's tales that they would even attack giraffe. Black-footed cats are very successful hunters with about one vertebrate prey animal caught every 50 minutes and 10-14 rodents or small birds caught in a night. This represents about 250-300g of food, about 20% of the cat's body weight, but record intakes can reach 450g per night.


Name (Scientific) Felis nigripes
Name (English) Black-footed Cat, Small-spotted Cat
Name (French) Chat à pieds noirs
Name (German) Schwarzfusskatze
Name (Spanish) Gato de pies negros
Local names Afrikaans: Klein gekolde kat, Swart poot kat, miershooptier
Damara: Nulaibeb
isiXhosa: Ingwe yeziduli Nama
seSotho: Tsetse
seTswana: Sebala, lototsi, sebalabala, sebala-manokwane, keketlane
CITES Status Appendix I
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Alex Sliwa



Range Southern Africa: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa. Possibly Angola.
Habitat Arid brushland and semi-desert
Wild population Approx. < 10'000 (1996)
Zoo population 28 reported to ISIS (2008). 63 in the International Studbook with 17 Institutions participating

In the Zoo

Black-footed Cat, Small-spotted Cat


How this animal should be transported

Transport crates should be sufficiently large to meet legal requirements and sufficiently strong to prevent escape or damage to the crate and animal. Basic design should allow free flow of air through multiple sides of the container. Preferably, a double door design at least on one end of the crate should be used. The "inner" door should have bars or wire mesh to contain the animal, and the "outer" door should consist of a thin panel of expanded metal or plywood that provides safety for the handlers and isolation for the animal. The doors should travel vertically to facilitate animal transfer and contain a secure locking system. The crate should drain well, and absorbent bedding should be used to prevent the animal from being exposed to or lying in urine or excreta.


The shipment should be organised in a way to minimise stress. The animal should have access to its transport crate for 2 weeks before shipment, preferably being fed within it. If an extended trip is anticipated, water and food as may be required should be provided while the animal is in transit.


For air transport, Container Note 82 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Alex Sliwa

Why do zoos keep this animal

Formerly a widely kept small cat species. Its population has decreased dramatically due to long-standing disease problems. Current international studbook population is 63 animals in 17 institutions. They are representatives of their dry temperate Karoo and upland grassland habitat, which is threatened by habitat destruction through overgrazing and desertification. Their small size is special and they make a good display, even with limited space available.


Due to a 6-year field study using radio-telemetry we know more about the ecology and behaviour of this small cat species in the wild compared to other small species. Their good looks, body form and conservation concern make an interesting story for the education of visitors. The black-footed cat is generally uncommon throughout its range. Threats include killing by dog packs used for jackal control, habitat destruction through overgrazing and accidental poisoning.