Felis nigripes


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Felis nigripes
Species Authority: Burchell, 1824
Common Name/s:
English Black-footed Cat, Small-spotted Cat
French Chat À Pieds Noirs
Spanish Gato De Pies Negros, Gato Patinegro
Taxonomic Notes: Placed in the genus Felis according to genetic analysis (Johnson et al. 2006, O'Brien and Johnson 2007, Eizirik et al. submitted).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable C2a(i) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor/s: Sliwa, A.
Reviewer/s: Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U. (Cat Red List Authority) & Hoffmann, M. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)
There are few historical or recent records from which to judge, but the black-footed cat appears to have a relatively restricted and patchy distribution, and its total effective population size may be fewer than 10,000 mature individuals, with a declining trend due to loss of prey base and persecution, and no subpopulation containing more than 1,000 mature individuals (A. Sliwa pers. comm. 2007).
2002 Vulnerable

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: The black-footed cat is endemic to southern Africa. The species is found primarily in Namibia and South Africa, but also Botswana (where there are historical records but no recent ones), and marginally in Zimbabwe and likely marginally in extreme southern Angola (Sliwa 2008, B. Wilson and A. Sliwa pers. comm. 2007).
Angola (Angola); Botswana; Namibia; South Africa; Zimbabwe
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The black-footed cat is rare compared to the other small cats of southern Africa (Sliwa 2008). There has been only one field study of the black-footed cat, on a game farm in central South Africa, with the research period spanning more than a decade (Sliwa et al. 2007), and over 17,000 fixes and 1,600 hours of observation of radio-collared and habituated cats. In his 60 km² study area, Sliwa (2004) found the density of adult cats to be 0.17 per km². In low-quality habitat densities are possibly very much lower (Sliwa 2008).
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: The black-footed cat is a specialist of open, short grass areas with an abundance of small rodents and ground-roosting birds. It inhabits dry, open savanna, grasslands and Karoo semi-desert with sparse shrub and tree cover and a mean annual rainfall of between 100 and 500 mm at altitudes of 0-2,000 m. It is not found in the driest and sandiest parts of the Namib and Kalahari Deserts (Sliwa 2008).

During a 6-year field study on the game farm in central South Africa, 1725 prey items were observed consumed by 17 free-ranging habituated black-footed cats. Average prey size was 24.1 g. Eight males fed on significantly larger prey (27.9 g) than 9 females (20.8 g). Fifty-four prey species were classified by their average mass into 8 different size classes, 3 for mammals, 3 for birds, 1 for amphibians/reptiles, and 1 for invertebrates. Small mammals (5-40 g) constituted the most important prey class (39%) of total prey biomass followed by larger mammals (> 100 g; 17%) and small birds ( 100 g) were mainly consumed. Small rodents like the large-eared mouse (Malacothrix typica), captured 595 times by both sexes, were particularly important during the reproductive season for females with kittens. Male black-footed cats showed less variation between prey size classes consumed among climatic seasons. This sex-specific difference in prey size consumption may help to reduce intra-specific competition (Sliwa 2006). In terms of interspecific competition, Sliwa et al. (2007) found that black-footed cats captured smaller prey on average than African wildcats, although both captured approximately the same number (12-13) of prey species per night.

Black-footed cats are solitary, except for females with dependent kittens, and during mating. Males have larger annual home ranges (20.7 km²; n=5) than females (10.0 km², n=7) (Sliwa 2004). Adults travel an average of 8.42+/- 2.09 km per night - more distance than the African wildcat (5.1 +/- 3.35 km per night) depite their smaller size, although some wildcats travelled very far (17.37 per km longest distance, as opposed to the black-footed at's 14.61 km) (Sliwa et al. 2007).

Male ranges overlap those of 1-4 females. Intra-sexual overlap varies from 12.9% for three males to 40.4% for five females. Home-range size is likely to vary between regions according to resources available to the individuals (Sliwa 2004). Kittens are independent after 3-4 months, but remain within the range of their mother for extended periods (Sliwa 2008).

The black-footed cat is one of the world's smallest cats, with females weighing an average of 1.3 kg and males larger at 1.93 kg (Sliwa 2008). The conspecific and more common African wildcat is considerably larger (females - 3.9 kg; males - 5.1 kg) (Sliwa et al. 2007).
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Black-footed cats are threatened primarily by habitat degradation by grazing and agriculture, as well as by poison and other indiscriminate methods of pest control (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Sliwa 2008).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Included on CITES Appendix I and protected by national legislation across most of its range (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Hunting of this species is banned in Botswana and South Africa.

Recommended conservation measures include more fine scale distributional studies particularly in Namibia and Botwana, as well as a second ecological study in a different habitat than Sliwa (2004), preferably in areas of lower rainfall more typical of the current predicted range (A. Sliwa pers. comm. 2007).

The species is recorded from several protected areas, including Karoo National Park, Mountain Zebra National Park, and Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa, and Makgadikgadi Pans (Botswana). To date, there are no confirmed records for the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Botswana/South Africa) or Central Kalahari Game Reserve (Botswana) (A. Sliwa pers. comm. 2007).

Bibliography [top]

Eizirik, E., Johnson, W. E. and O'Brien, S. J. Submitted. Molecular systematics and revised classification of the family Felidae (Mammalia, Carnivora). Journal of Mammalogy.

Johnson, W. E., Eizirik, E., Pecon-Slattery, J., Murphy, W. J., Antunes, A., Teeling, E. and O'Brien, S. J. 2006. The late miocene radiation of modern felidae: A genetic assesstment. Science 311: 73-77.

Nowell, K. and Jackson, P. 1996. Wild Cats. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

O'Brien, S. J. and Johnson, W. E. 2007. The evolution of cats. Scientific American July: 68-75.

Sliwa, A. 2004. Home range size and social organisation of black-footed cats (Felis nigripes). Mammalian Biology 69: 96-107.

Sliwa, A. 2006. Seasonal and sex-specific prey composition of black-footed cats Felis nigripes. Acta Theriologica 51: 195-204.

Sliwa, A., Herbst, M. and Mills, M. J. 207. Prey consumption and distances covered by black-footed cat (Felis nigripes) and African wildcats (Felis silvestris) - a comparison of two small felids from South African arid lands. In: J. Hughes and R. Mercer (eds), Felid Biology and Conservation: Conference Abstracts, pp. 56 pp.. Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

Sliwa, A. In press. Felis nigripes. In: J. S. Kingdon and M. Hoffmann (eds), The Mammals of Africa, Academic Press, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Sliwa, A., Wilson, B., Lamberski, N. and Herrick, J. 2007. Report on catching and surveying black-footed cats (Felis nigripes) on Benfontein Game Farm, 8-24 May 2007.

Citation: Sliwa, A. 2008. Felis nigripes. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. <>. Downloaded on 21 April 2014.
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