Black-footed Cat Research
To study the ecology, reproduction and health of black-footed cats in South Africa
The black-footed cat (Felis nigripes) is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and is ranked as the most vulnerable of the sub-Saharan cat species by the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. Despite its current conservation status, the black-footed cat has received very little attention by the conservation community. In fact, a single study of their basic ecology represents the only detailed information available for this species in the wild. Critical information such as the species’ current distribution and the existence of distinct sub-species is still unknown. As natural habitat disappears, populations of black-footed cats may become genetically isolated, which may impact the reproductive success of the species. In addition, wild carnivores are coming into contact with an increasing number of domestic dogs and cats carrying a variety of diseases. 75% of all deaths in black-footed cats in human care are due to kidney failure, with amyloidodis as the most common cause. It is still unclear whether this incidence of amyloidosis reflects the genetic predisposition of the species or an adverse effect of the ex situ environment.
There is urgent need to learn much more about this rare and little known species. About its ecology, distribution, conservation status, genetics, reproduction, diseases and physiology, which will also help improve the species’ ex situ breeding potential. Therefore, field studies are being undertaken since 2002 with the overall goals to:
- better characterise the current distribution and habitat requirements of the black-footed cat, especially in the western regions of South Africa;
- start a second comparative ecological study in the south-easternmost part of the distribution;
- determine current genetic diversity among various populations to determine the extent of isolation and the possibility of sub-speciation;
- identify infectious diseases that could be threatening wild populations;
- investigate the reproductive status of wild male cats;
- establish baseline health and reproductive data that can be used to evaluate the current ex situ populations; and
- increase the viability of ex situ populations without removing animals from their native ranges by using cryopreserved spermatozoa from wild males for in vitro fertilisation.
WAZA Conservation Project 06016 is implemented by Cologne Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park and Cincinnati Zoo, as well as the McGregor Museum at Kimberley, and is financed by these zoos. Thanks go to De Beers Consolidated Mines for access to property for past capture field trips.
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