International Society For Endangered Cats

A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World

Black-footed Cat Project

black-footed cat by A. SliwaThe Black-footed Cat Working Group aims to conserve this rare species by furthering awareness and conducting research on the species’ biology. Dr. Alex Sliwa captured his first black-footed cat in December 1992 and the project continues annually. ISEC Canada has been recognized as the longest-running supporter of this study as we’ve been sending funds since the beginning.

Black-footed Cats are the smallest cats in Africa, and one of the two smallest cat species in the world. With females averaging 1.3 kg and males 1.9 kg, they stand approximately 25 cm at the shoulder, and are 50-63 cm in length.

These tiny felines inhabit the arid lands of Southern Africa, and have the most restricted range of all African cat species. According to the World Conservation Union, Black-footed Cats are more vulnerable than cheetahs and lions, due to their restricted geographical range and specific habitat requirements.

Some Research Findings

These cats have immense home ranges, and spend about 70% of the night hunting. They move between 4.5 and 16 km, averaging 8.5 km per night. These distances represent odometer readings of the tracking vehicle, while the cat’s zig-zagging between bushes and termite mounds probably results in double those distances.

They are active in temperatures between +30 to -10C, and also hunt during strong rain and high winds.

When Black-footed Cats were listed as Vulnerable by the World Conservation Union, some farmers doubted they deserved this status. Studies have shown that one cat roams through a large home range and if seen several times in one night, can give the impression of many cats.

Field research has already benefited the species in captivity:

-Captive cats must be provided with a highly varied diet including fully feathered birds, as feathers contain a large amount of the essential amino acid taurine.

-The proportion of fibre to protein in captive diets is often too low and can result in kidney problems.

-Blood values from wild black-footed cats have provided data that can indicate kidney problems in captive cats.

-As wild Black-footed Cats eat about 15-20% of their body weight each night, captive cats require larger quantities of food than other small felids, due to their high metabolic rate.

Black-footed Cats:

  • are vulnerable to insecticide spray used on locusts, which they eat in masses
  • are killed by poisoned carcasses and steel-jaw traps set out to target livestock predators
  • fall victim to dogs, which are used to chase or dig out jackals during problem animal operations
  • kittens and independent cats are killed by jackals, caracals and large birds of prey
  • suffer from overgrazing and periodic fires set to replenish vegetation growth in their habitat, which reduce the number of rodents they depend on
black-footed cat camera trap photo A Sliwa

Radio-collared Black-footed Cat emerges from her den.


The most important habitat for these cats is large game farms where overgrazing is less likely, as native game species are better adapted to the arid conditions. Part of their distribution falls within large    protected wildlife areas, but they have rarely been recorded in these zones, likely due to the existence of larger predators.

By educating the farming community about the use of poison, and wise range management through game farming in arid habitats, the long term future of these cats can be improved.

Records suggest an expansion of Black-footed Cats eastward in South Africa which could be the result of drought and the elimination of larger predators. Fieldwork in Namibia, Botswana and possibly Zimbabwe is needed to establish the full range of the species.

You Can Help

Without the financial support of caring cat lovers from around the world, none of this information would have been obtained. These studies have already provided a great deal of valuable information about the Black-footed Cat, but there is so much more to be learned.

100% of donations to our field research projects go directly to the field, and donors receive annual  reports from the researchers. Won’t you join our growing team of small wild cat fans and make a  donation today?

Donate Now Through!


One response to “Black-footed Cat Project

  1. Emma Bekker July 22, 2014 at 6:27 am

    We have a house in Witkoppen Fish and Game reserve. It is near the small town of Memel in the Free State Province of South Africa. We spotted a Blackfooted cat on our reserve on Saturday evening. We saw it attempting to hunt a Cape Hare. This is perhaps on the edge of its known habitat. 2000m above sea level.

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