International Society For Endangered Cats

A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World

Category Archives: African Cats

How Many Kittens Can You See?

This amazing photo of an African Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) family was taken by a camera trap set up by the Cape Leopard Trust in South Africa.
african wildcats Cape Leopard Trust

As well as leopards, the researchers are also studying caracals.

The Cederberg Caracal Project was started in 2012, in collaboration with the Cape Leopard Trust, and is based in the Cederberg Mountains of South Africa. The project focuses primarily on the ecology and behaviour of Caracals (Caracal caracal). The project also aims to improve the current knowledge about this elusive species in relation to a bigger predator, the Cape leopard as well as with livestock farmers.

Cederberg Caracal Project


Caturday Feature: Caracal

caracal with loppy ear tuftsCaracal means ‘black ears’ in Turkish. Large, tapering ears with five cm erect tufts of black hair, used for communication, are the most unique feature of this cat. (Well, usually they’re erect – this little girl at Cincinnati Zoo is an adorable exception!)

Black-backed ears, dark spots on both sides of the muzzle, black spots above the eyes and a black stripe from the eye to the nose break up an otherwise uniform tawny-brown to brick-red colouring. Eyes are large and yellow brown. The short, dense coat is slightly longer and whiter on the underside. Females are smaller than the males.

Although they are called ‘desert lynx’, Caracals have longer legs, a more slender body, and the tail is considerably longer than true lynx. They also lack the ruff of hairs around the face which are so predominant in the northern cats. Melanistic Caracals have been reported, though only rarely.


Essentially an animal of dry regions, the Caracal has a wide habitat tolerance and is widely distributed. They are found in woodlands, savannahs and acacia scrub throughout Africa; jungle scrub and deserts in India; and arid, sandy regions and steppes in Asia.

Their historical range mirrors that of the Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus and both coincide with the distribution of several small desert gazelles. They are called ‘gazelle cats’ by nomads in North Africa.

Home ranges of three males in Namibia averaged 316.4 km2, and an Israeli study found ranges averaging 220.5/km2, indicating the low number of prey species in arid landscapes. In a well watered coastal protected area of South Africa, radio telemetry studies found adult male home ranges to be 31-65/km2, with females’being 4- 31/km2. Males have a home range that overlaps those of several females.


As a desert animal, they can survive long periods without drinking. During the hot hours of the day, they rest in crevices, and hunt mainly in the cooler morning, night and evening hours. Their gait is similar to that of the Cheetah, but they are not sprinters, and take to the trees if pursued by dogs. Although they can be considered the fastest cat of their size, their hunting technique is the stalk and spring method like that of the domestic cat.

Caracals are remarkable jumpers, and can jump up to 3 meters (10 feet) into the air to knock flushed birds down with their paw. Ten to a dozen pigeons at one time can be taken this way, and the Caracal was once tamed and trained for bird hunting in India and Iran. This is the origination of the expression ‘to put a cat amongst the pigeons’. They were put in an arena containing a flock of pigeons, and wagers were made to see how many they would take down. They were also used to hunt antelope, hares, and foxes, much like the Cheetah.

A kill is often dragged into dense cover where it can be eaten without disturbance. Large prey animals are covered with grass after the initial feeding, to be consumed later. New grass or fruit is also sometimes eaten, probably for the moisture content.

Like most species of cat, the Caracal is predominantly nocturnal, travelling up to 20 km per night in search of food. Sleeping is done in burrows, rock crevices or thick bush, sometimes in trees. Vocalizations are few, mainly growls and spits in anger, and a loud barking sound used to call their partners. As with other desert animals, their sight and hearing are very good and they have a moderate sense of smell.


Caracals are solitary animals, and come together only for mating. In the eastern Transvaal of Southern Africa, the peak birth time for Caracal kittens is July and August. After a 78 – 81 day gestation, one to six kittens weighing 198 – 250 grams are born in a burrow, crevice, or dense patch of brush lined with fur and feathers. Newborns are darker and greyer than the adults, with reddish belly spots that fade as they age. The kittens can open their eyes on the first day of life, but they are not completely open for six to 10 days. When they are about three weeks old, the mother takes them from the birth burrow to another location, and continues to move the family on a regular basis. At four to five weeks of age the young are very active and make a chirping, birdlike vocalization. They are weaned at about ten weeks, and remain with their mother for up to a year. Sexual maturity is reached around 12 – 16 months.


The actual number of Caracal in the wild is unknown. They are considered rare or threatened in Asia and North Africa; widespread in South Africa and hunted as a poultry raider wherever they are found. Poisoned carcasses which kill a variety of carnivores are put out by ranchers to kill predators.

Between 1931-1952, an average of 2,219 Caracals per year were killed in South Africa during predator control operations. Namibian farmers responding to a government questionnaire reported killing up to 2,800 Caracals in 1981.

A study in the United Arab Emirates found 11 of 12 Caracal scats contained domestic goats or sheep, as natural prey numbers were low or absent. In a protected area of Iran, cape hare and rodents made up the bulk of the Caracal diet, and there was no predation on livestock reported. As well, no livestock remains were found in 200 scats in a South African park where wild prey was abundant.

Caracals are most numerous in South Africa and Namibia, where their range is expanding, possibly due to extirpation of black-backed jackals by farmers. An additional threat is severe habitat loss, as people move further into their territory, and their prey species are driven out.

The Caracal is classed as Least Concern (2008).

Caturday Feature: African Golden Cat

®Laila Bahaa-el-din and Panthera

The African Golden Cat Profelis aurata remains an enigma in the cat world. About twice the size of a domestic cat, they are very sturdy, powerful animals, with stout, relatively short legs and large paws. There are two colour phases: chestnut-red/fawn and silvery/dark slate-grey, of which the grey phase is often called the silver cat. Both red and grey phases occur in the same areas, and a few melanistic specimens have been recorded.

The underparts are whitish, and the belly and inner sides of the limbs can have variable amounts of dark spotting. There are four different coat patterns found throughout the Golden cat’s range: spotted all over; spots on the back and neck indistinct; no pattern except on flanks; and no pattern except on belly. Their head is relatively small with a fairly large muzzle, irises of green to Golden brown. Small white patches are visible above their eyes, especially at the inner corners.  The backs of the small, rounded ears are black and some individuals have white patches around the eyes and cheeks. The tail is  about one third of the head and body length, and has a dark line on the upper side, sometimes with distinct rings.


African Golden cats are the only forest-dependent wild cats in Africa, yet remain almost entirely unstudied. Aside from a few projects investigating diet, current knowledge is largely based on captive individuals and occasional sightings in the wild.

These cats usually occur in moist equatorial rainforests, but have been found to occasionally inhabit drier woodlands as long as they are near water. They are also common at high altitudes up to 3,600 metres in mountainous areas where they live in deciduous rain forest, bamboo forests, and along water courses extending into the drier, more open areas. Golden cats apparently adapt well to logged areas, as destruction of the canopy favours the dense secondary undergrowth they prefer. Edge environments generally contain high rodent densities, and thus may be preferred.


While thought to be crepuscular and nocturnal, a recent camera trap study in Gabon (2011) found the African Golden Cats to be active at all times of day and night, and the majority of photographs were obtained during the day. Peaks in Golden Cat activity corresponded weakly with periods of reduced Leopard Panthera pardus activity, with increased activity during the hottest part of the afternoon when Leopards are least active.

They have been seen resting in the lower branches of trees during the day and are thus thought to be partially arboreal. However, the short tail is difficult to explain in this regard since most arboreal cats have a long tail that they use as a counterbalance when climbing.

In the Congo and Central African Republic, scat studies revealed rodents and squirrels were the main prey species, followed by small antelope.


No dens with kittens have been described from the wild and very few have been raised in captivity. A litter of one to three, usually one or two, kittens are born in a hollow tree den, rocky crevice, or thick vegetation after about 78 days. Kittens weigh 180 – 235 grams at birth and sometimes have small ear tufts. They grow fairly rapidly with their eyes opening in six days, and are weaned between three and four months, at which time they weigh 2.5 – 3 kg. They reach sexual maturity between 11-18 months of age, and have lived up to 12 years in captivity.


Although the species has been known for 200 years, it wasn’t until 2002 that the first photograph of a wild African Golden Cat was obtained. In parts of central and western Africa, African Golden cats rank highly in local religious beliefs. When asked about the cat by researchers, natives are reluctant to talk about them or even to acknowledge that they exist.

Baka pygmy tribesmen value their tail as a talisman to protect them when they are hunting elephants, and the skin is traditionally incorporated into tribal robes. They are known locally as the ‘leopard’s brother’ because the two cats are often found in the same area.

They are Africa’s least known felid, but may be less rare than is generally thought due to the density of their habitat. Due to their adaptability, the species is not restricted to primary forest and also does well in secondary forest.

Loss of habitat is the main threat to the population; they have lost about 44% of their former range. The forests of west Africa have been heavily damaged by human activity, and roads built into the forest by logging operations provide easier access for the bush meat trade, which figures largely in the region’s economy. This trade leads to local depletion of prey species, and the cats are occasionally caught in traps set for other animals. There seems to be little direct hunting of African Golden cats but skins are occasionally sold in local markets for ritual purposes, alongside medicinal herbs and fetishes.

African Golden Cats share much of their range with the larger Leopard. Research studies on this big cat have found that when their larger prey species are less abundant, they switch to smaller prey, thus directly competing with the Golden Cat for food resources. A study of the Leopard in Gabon also found African Golden cat remains in 5 of 196 Leopard scats. Conversely, the eradication of the Leopard from Bwindi National Park in Uganda has led to the African Golden Cat being the dominant carnivore in that area.  African Golden Cats are classed as Near Threatened (2008).

Sand Kittens Storming The Web

by Pat Bumstead

It’s amazing how much coverage a zoo can get with a kitten video. Any kitten video is popular, but when you have four of the most adorable little bundles of Felidae at once, it bounces around the internet on an endless loop.

No one can argue with the cute factor of these little Sand Cats, but there are couple of items mentioned in the script that should be corrected.

The first, and one that has bugged me forever, is the media’s free and easy use of the word ‘extinct’. To say an animal is extinct in Israel grates on my nerves – extinct is extinct folks, as in dinosaurs and dodos. The word refers to a species that is “no longer in existence” – period. Sand cats are found throughout the Middle East and northern Africa, so their population is far from extinct. They aren’t even listed as an endangered species.

The correct word, which the press seems totally unaware of,  is “extirpated”, which means they used to live there but now they don’t. I know I’m beating my head against the wall on this issue, but couldn’t miss a chance for the soap box.

The other incorrect item is that the sand cat is the only wild cat species that lives in the desert. This is not true – caracals, wildcats and leopards also  live in true desert of the Middle East and Africa. One of the smallest wild cat species in the world, the black-footed cat, lives in the deserts of South Africa.

If you’ve possibly missed the cuteness-fest of the last couple of weeks, here they are again.

Caracal Cat Documentary Needs Help

The Caracal Documentary Project is a documentary in the works that will attempt to foster a dialogue about the efforts to bridge the conflict that goes on in southern Namibia, South Africa, between livestock ranchers and the Caracal Cat.

Today, Caracal cats are killed by livestock farmers who fear the cats preying on their livestock. But what researcher Aletris Neils has found, and talks about in the video, is that these cats do more good for ranch lands than the ranchers themselves understand. Caracals are diet-specific, meaning they can be made to not prey on livestock. The greatest benefit from this is that one Caracal on the territory can fend off other cats.

With your help, we can put a stop to the eradication of these cats and bring a better dialogue for understanding the complex relationships on the ranch lands. Anything you can give us would be beneficial for these elegant creatures and also for the ranchers themselves.

The goal for this documentary is multifold. First and foremost, we want to introduce the Caracal Cat to the rest of the world as the magnificent and beautiful creature. We also want to draw attention to the ongoing discussion now in Namibia started by Aletris Neils and her conservation efforts with the support of the local ranching population. Finally, we want to ensure that any misconceptions is cleared up: there are no villains in this situation, just multiple players in a complicated situation that needs a solution.

The CDP aims to raise the awareness on these beautiful big cats so the world can participate in the discussion on how to best handle these creatures. The ranchers, many of whom have already been very welcoming and supportive of the research, are already ready to talk.

This is not a simple story. There are no bad guys or good guys. There is only us. If we do not all work together, then it may become too late and the beautiful Caracals in the region may soon be eradicated.

Help us introduce these cats to the world. Let us bring the voice of the ranchers into the boardrooms of policy makers. Let us all make a difference.

This project will only be funded if Kickstarter raises $1675 in the next 7 DAYS. Please help these innocent cats if you can!

Goodbye From The Black-footed Cats

We hope you enjoyed our Black-footed Cat Blitz throughout the month of February! Thanks to the generosity of Dr. Alex Sliwa and the researchers of the Black-footed Cat Working Group, we were able to share a wealth of little-known data on these smallest of wild cats.

There is still so much more to be learned about these vulnerable little felines, and the researchers need your help. Even the smallest donations add up, so if you’re a Black-footed fan, please Donate Today. 100% of funds raised go directly to the conservation of these tiny cats.

Help the researchers of the Black-footed Cat Working Group continue this conservation study!

Donate Now Through!

Learn more about Black-footed Cats on our website

Threats To Black-footed Cats

"Male Okko hiding in a temporary den when tracked the day after his capture." A. Sliwa

The most important habitat for Black-footed Cats would be extensively managed farmland, especially large game farms where overgrazing is less likely, as native game species are better adapted to arid conditions. Nearly all their habitat is suitable only for stock farming and game ranching, and they are well able to survive on properly managed rangeland. However, overgrazing and periodic fires set to replenish vegetation reduce the number of rodents the cats depend on.

Black-footed Cats are vulnerable to insecticide spray used on locusts, which the cats may eat in masses. Poisoned carcasses and steel-jaw traps are also set out by stockmen to target small livestock predators such as black-backed jackals, caracals and African wildcats. Cats also fall victim to dogs, which are used to chase or dig out jackals during problem animal operations.

Learn more about Black-footed Cats on our website

Help the researchers of the Black-footed Cat Working Group continue this conservation study!

Donate Now Through!

Black-footed Stalking

"Male Spook stalks pressed low to the ground across the rock strewn flats." A. Sliwa

As special adaptations to their arid desert habitat, dotted with grasses and dwarf shrubs, Black-footed Cats have hair on the black soles of their feet to protect them from hot sands. Their coat pattern helps them blend into background. Their small body size is perfect for hunting low down in short vegetation. They often flatten their low set ears completely, in order to hide even lower in areas with little or no cover.

Learn more about Black-footed Cats on our website

Help the researchers of the Black-footed Cat Working Group continue this conservation study!

Donate Now Through!

Black-footed Tenacity

"Male Pogon scavenges on the leg of a stillborn springbok antelope lamb." A. Sliwa

Black-footed Cats have the reputation of being able to kill sheep or giraffe by piercing their jugular. While this legend is not true, there is no doubt these are tenacious little cats. One female in the study often took on other animals she met at night, including those much bigger than herself. Once she jumped with bared claws and fangs into the face of a black-backed jackal, an animal eight times heavier than herself.

On occasion they are able to kill hares larger and heavier than themselves as well as birds the size of a chicken. Numerous times they have stalked springbok lambs, between 2-3 kg, but never attempted to kill them.

Learn more about Black-footed Cats on our website

Help the researchers of the Black-footed Cat Working Group continue this conservation study!

Donate Now Through!

A Rare Daytime Black-footed Cat Photo

"Kitten of female Lamu sunning itself in the morning after a night of heavy rain." A. Sliwa

Black-footed Cats are nocturnal, and their activity varies with the length of the night over the season, leaving returning to their dens within 30 minutes of sunset and sunrise. During the colder winter months they occasionally hunt from first light to late afternoon. They spend the day in one of the many abandoned burrows or rocky crevices found in their territory, generally using a different one each time.

Learn more about Black-footed Cats on our website

Help the researchers of the Black-footed Cat Working Group continue this conservation study!

Donate Now Through!

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