Ecology

Habitat

Benfontein south

Black-footed cats inhabit the arid steppes and grassland savannas of the Kalahari, the Karoo deserts and parts of the south african Highveld, often in association with termite mounds.

Their stocky body and short tail show that they are not particularly adept climbers,Black-footed cat hunting but perfectly adapted to hunting low down in the short vegetation.

Male black-footed cats use a home range of up to 25 km² in one year and share the area with up to three females, who have smaller ranges of 10 km². Every night they cover a distance of 5 to 16 km, often hunting in small circles and zig-zagging between bushes and termite mounds. They spend the day in burrows or hollowed out termite mounds.

Feeding

Black-footed cats are opportunistic hunters, feeding on 40 different vertebrate species. Their varied food spectrum comprises of rodents and shrews (55%), small birds (20%), large, soft-bodied insects, spiders, scorpions, small snakes and geckos.

They are capable of killing prey larger than itself, can catch birds in flight and jump up to 2 m distance and 1.4 m high.

The black-footed cat’s appetite is extraordinary. They are very successful hunters catching on average one vertebrate prey animal every 50 minutes. During the course of one night they eat prey amounting to one fifth of their own body mass. If their catch is too large to finish in one go, they hide it in their dens or even in aardvark digs and return hours later to continue feeding.

 

Reproduction

Black-footed cat kittenIn a year a female usually raises 2 litters with 2 kittens. Her kittens are born during the southern hemisphere summer (October - March) after a gestation period of 63 - 68 days, hidden in hollow termite mounds or empty springhare burrows. They are weaned within two months.

Their call is surprisingly loud and deep – a throaty 'rraaouuh' uttered repeatedly during the breeding period. Female make a soft call to kittens.

Status in the wild

This secretive and retiring cat is the rarest of the African felids. In the IUCN Red List it is listed as vulnerable. In the larger part of their range they are protected, but hunting them is prohibited only in Botswana and South Africa. The total effective population size is less than 10,000 mature breeding individuals. Due to loss of its prey base through habitat degradation by overgrazing, indirect persecution by poisoning and predator control the population is declining.