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Black-footed Cat

Scientific Name: Felis nigripes


So named for the black undersides of their feet, black-footed cats are the smallest cat species in the world. These tiny felids weigh in at only 3 to 4 pounds, much smaller than an average house cat. Don’t let their small size fool you though! Legend has it that these skilled hunters of the African savanna have leaped onto the neck of a giraffe to bring it down! While this is a just a “tall tale,” black-footed cats are efficient predators of prey ranging from locusts and spiders to gerbils and hares. These nocturnal cats also frequently hunt birds such as quail, larks, and bustards. They silently creep very close, then rush forward and pounce on their unsuspecting victims. They can even catch birds in flight. During the day these secretive cats hide in aardvark burrows or termite mounds. These little spotted cats have a variety of predators to avoid. Animals such as jackals, snakes and large birds of prey are their main enemies. There are less than 75 black-footed cats in captivity worldwide. Riverbanks is lucky to have a very successful breeding pair. These cats have raised seven litters, the last five with the sire present, an uncommon practice in smallcat husbandry. The Zoo has taken this opportunity to learn more about black-footed cats by studying kitten growth, reproduction, nutrition, and general behavior. The knowledge gained from this pair should help insure the future survival of this species in the wild as well as in captivity.


Black-footed cats prefer dry open country and grassy savannas. This type of habitat is abundant with food items and good hiding spots. These African cats are found in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

Status in the Wild

Black-footed cats are on Appendix I of CITES and are listed as endangered. They are protected across most of their range and hunting is prohibited in Botswana and South Africa. Farmers practicing predator control using poisoned bait and steel-jaw traps may unintentionally cause harm to many species, including black-footed cats.