International Society For Endangered Cats

A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World

Tag Archives: african wild cats

Black Footed Kids

"Two kittens ~6 weeks old of female Paris, play close to their den while their mother emerges from it." A Sliwa

Females usually produce one litter of two kittens annually. Under ideal conditions, a female may successfully raise two litters in the warmer seasons of the year, but this depends on prey base, predator density and climate. In comparison to most other cat species an average litter of two is small, resulting in a low reproductive potential.

Learn more about Black-footed Cats on our website

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

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Frosty Black-footed Cat

"Female Cleo was sunning herself in the first morning light after a frosty night. Ice crystals can be seen on her back." A. Sliwa

Learn more about Black-footed Cats on our website

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

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Member Photos: Serval

UK photographer Ben Williams is sharing more beautiful cat photos with us – this time the African Serval.

The Serval is one of the few small wild cat species that are not on any endangered list, although their numbers are declining due to loss of habitat. These cats like to hunt near wetlands, which are being drained and filled in throughout their entire range.

Member Photos: Caracal

Many of our ISEC Canada members are keen photographers, and include both amateur and professional photogs. We are always happy to showcase wild cat photos on this blog, so if you have any pictures you would like to brag about, please email them to our office at Click to enlarge photos.

Ben Williams in the United Kingdom has sent us more wild cat photos. This week we’re featuring the Caracal, photographed at Port Lympne Wildlife Park in Kent. 

Caracals are one of the few wild cat species that are not listed as endangered. There is concern however, at the severe loss of habitat throughout their African range, and their Asian status is critical.

These cats are known for flushing birds from the grass, jumping up and knocking them down with their front paws. They can reach heights of  10 feet doing this. In ancient times, Caracal were tamed and used for hunting birds, much the same way as Cheetahs were trained to hunt gazelles. This unusual cat behaviour is the origin of the phrase ‘to put the cat amongst the pigeons.’

Read more about the Caracal on our website.

Jump or Swim

One of the things I find most fascinating about cats is that, while all members of the family have the same basic platform, you can see adaptations and variations among the individual species. To illustrate this, let’s compare the serval and the fishing cat.

The Long Arm of the Serval (close up)Both are roughly the same size–the serval weighs between 7 and 18 Kg; the fishing cat, 5 to 16 Kg. They’re both around 60 cm long. They can easily be described as “medium sized cats,” but they clearly have different body types. They are also both nocturnal hunters.

The serval is a slender cat, with long legs and big ears. The ears allow them to hear their prey in the grasslands of Africa. The ears can rotate independent of each other.

Relative to body size, they have the longest legs of any species of cat. These legs allow them to reach down in burrows after rodents (as cat ambassador Cleo demonstrates). However, what servals most put their legs to use for is jumping. They can leap up to three-and-a-half meters in the air. Some have even pulled birds out of the sky.
Jumping Jambo!

To look at a fishing cat next to a serval, you’d see a stockier cat, with darker fur. The inner layer of their fur is dense, forming a waterproof layer.
San Diego Fishing Cat in the Bushes (cropped)
Fishing cats are not jumpers, so they do not have the long legs. Unlike the serval (and, well, most any other cat), they are swimmers. Where the serval has a fairly short tail, the fishing cat has a long one, acting as a rudder. They have webbed feet to help move through the water. Fishing cats have semi-retractable claws (like a cheetah) that are curved like fishhooks to help, well, cat fish.
Getting Ready... (croppped)
These are just a few examples of how different cats adapt to their environment. You can see many others, from the fur on the bottom of a sand cat’s foot to the mane of a lion.

Flying Cheetah

Chance, in Flight

Cheetahs are the fastest land mammal. However, at top speed, part of their stride has all four feet are in the air. This is called the “floating phase” of their run.

Flying Sara

Cincinnati Zoo cat ambassadors Chance (top) and Sarah (bottom) demonstrate their flight capability.

Big Cat Conservation Receives Funding

Animals in need and endangered species around the world will benefit from more than $1 million in grants awarded this year by the nonprofit SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. Since its creation eight years ago, the Fund has granted more than $8 million to protect wildlife and wild places like big cats in Africa.

The Fund approved grants to more than 100 wildlife protection projects, such as those that benefit big cats, including programs to reintroduce endangered cheetahs to the African wild.

“From big cats to penguins, these species are in dire need of help. SeaWorld and Busch Gardens work to educate and inspire guests to care about the plight of these animals, and these grants from the Fund support our conservation partners working in the field,” said Brad Andrews, president and executive director of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund and chief zoological officer for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. “Together, we can make a world of difference for these extraordinary species that share our world.”

Highlights of the more than 100 projects and organizations include Big Cats in Big Trouble.

The big cats of the world are disappearing. There are fewer than 12,000 cheetahs throughout Africa and less than half the number of lions that were there only 50 years ago. The Fund is supporting seven conservation organizations around the world that work to stop the decline of big cats and identify conservation strategies for their future.

* The Dell Cheetah Centre is researching and identifying ways to reintroduce South African cheetahs to the wild.
* The Cheetah Conservation Fund provides field training of cheetah-scat detection dogs to help protect livestock from cheetah predation and educates local youth in Namibia, Africa to learn the importance of cheetahs in their eco-systems and culture.
* Cheetah Outreach is implementing an educational program created to raise awareness of the threats cheetahs face in the wild.
* Cheetah Conservation Botswana is developing methods for assessing cheetah and wild dog populations in the Kalahari region of Botswana, Africa.
* World Wildlife Fund is working to save the critically endangered Sumatran Tiger.
* Ewaso Lion Project is investigating the factors affecting the population dynamics of lions in and around local reserves in northern Kenya.
* WildiZe Foundation addresses the numerous underlying causes for the lion’s decline and involves local communities to reduce conflicts leading to the demise of these animals.

Caracal: Jumper Extraordinaire

The Caracal is a mid-sized wild cat from Africa and Asia. Renowned for their jumping ability, they were once tamed and trained to hunt birds in India and Iran. They were put in an arena containing a dozen or so pigeons, and wagers were made to see how many they could take down. This is the origination of the expression ‘ to put a cat amongst the pigeons’.

Caracal Fact Sheet

Featured Feline: Black-footed Cat

Weighing just 3-4 lbs as an adult, the tiny Black-footed cat Felis nigripes is likely the smallest wild cat species in the world. It is found only in the short grasslands of southern Africa, where it is rare and classified as Vulnerable (IUCN 2008). It is not found in the driest and sandiest parts of the Namib and Kalahari Deserts.

Stalking... Photo copyright A. Sliwa

Knowledge of its behaviour and ecology comes from a decade long study on the Benfontein Game Farm in South Africa, where more than 20 cats were radio-collared and tracked. Researchers had over 17,000 fixes and totalled 1,600 hours of observation on radio-collared and habituated cats.

Living in an arid area with a scarce prey base means Black-footed cats must cover large distances each night. Adults travel an average of 5.23 miles per night – more distance than the African wildcat despite their smaller size. The largest distance travelled by a Black-footed cat was 9.07 miles in a single night.

An incredibly tenacious little cat, it is reported to attack small sheep four times its weight, hanging onto the neck until the jugular vein is pierced. The natives have a legend claiming the ‘Ant Hill Tiger’ can bring down giraffe. In reality, as an opportunistic hunter it feeds on a variety of mice, birds, insects, reptiles and eggs.

Researcher Dr. Alex Sliwa (personal communication) says the biggest prey he watched one of their collared females attack was a male ostrich, weighing 180 pounds. She stalked this black mountain of feathers as he sat on his nest, creeping up to him flat on the ground for more than half an hour. When she was ready to pounce, the giant bird got up, revealing monstrous feet longer than the cat’s body, and towering for a second 6.5 feet above the cat, he bolted in a cloud of dust. Standing bedraggled, the cat shook her head in frustration and trotted off.

During the first six years of the study, 1725 prey items were consumed by 17 free-ranging habituated Black-footed cats. Small mammals constituted the most important prey (39%),followed by larger mammals (17%) and small birds (16%). Small rodents like the large-eared mouse, captured 595 times by both sexes, were particularly important during the reproductive season for females with kittens. 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.

Kitten peeking from the safety of the den. Photo copyright A Sliwa.

One small Black-footed cat can consume 3,000 rodents each year. It has also been known to eat dead springbok lambs, although it doesn’t actually kill them. Larger males can take adult Cape hare which weigh approximately the same as the cat. It has also been observed eating eggs, crushing them gently between its jaws, then licking the contents clean. This tiny cat can get its moisture requirements from prey, but will drink water if it is available.

Strictly nocturnal, the Black-footed cat shelters during the heat of the day in termite mound holes or abandoned burrows. Activity in the wild varies with the length of the night, with the cat leaving and returning to its den within 30 minutes of sunset and sunrise. Hunting techniques include waiting up to 40 minutes at rodent burrows, or flushing nesting birds by walking very fast through the grass. Enemies include venomous snakes, jackals and owls.

The Black-footed cat faces several man-made threats. Overgrazing by livestock is prevalent throughout its range, leading to a reduced prey base. Indiscriminate poisoning of carcasses to kill Caracals Caracal caracal and jackals also affect the Black-footed cat since it readily scavenges. Poisoning of locusts which would be eaten by the cats also poses a serious danger. Cats also fall victim to dogs, used to chase or dig out jackals during problem animal operations. Interbreeding with feral domestic cats can dilute the genetics of the Black-footed cat, an increasing threat to a number of small wild cats.

ISEC Canada is proud to have supported the field research project on this tiniest of felines since its inception. Many questions have been answered, but there is still so much more to learn, and we need your help.

It’s a tough world out there when you only weigh 3 pounds! Please consider contributing to the future of the black-footed cat by making a donation today.

Featured Feline: Caracal

When the Autumn issue of BBC Wildlife magazine landed in our mailbox, we were delighted to see a beautiful Caracal (Caracal caracal) gracing the cover. It’s not often the small wild cats are featured on the front of the world’s leading wildlife magazine, as well as in an article following a wild Caracal and her cub in Kenya.

Caracals are among the few non-endangered wild cat species, although their status does vary throughout their range. While thought to be close to extinction in India, they are considered fairly common in east Africa and Israel.

These cats occupy a wide variety of habitats from semi-desert to open savannah, scrubland to moist woodland and evergreen forest. They seem to favour drier woodland savannah regions with lower rainfall, and are absent from the equatorial rainforest.

Home ranges are always large in arid areas, and Caracal ranges average 316.4 km² in Namibia. A radio-tracked male in Saudi Arabia ranged over 270 km² to 1,116 km² in different seasons. In better watered areas of South Africa, home ranges are smaller, as the cats don’t have to travel so far to find food. Female ranges are considerably smaller than those of the males, and like other wild cat species, the males home range includes that of several females.

Caracal means ‘black ears’ in Turkish. Large, tapering ears with five cm (2”) erect tufts of black hair, used for communication, are probably the most unique feature of this cat. The position and movement of the ears provides information about their feelings, especially for mothers with cubs. In big, arid territories, large ears also help locate the squeaks of small rodents and other prey species.

Another unusual feature of the Caracal is their pupils. which contract to form circles like those of the big cats. This is a characteristic of animals that are not wholly nocturnal The pupils of the generally nocturnal small wild cat species contract into slits.

The Caracal is a remarkable jumper, and can jump several feet into the air to knock flushed birds down with its paws. 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. The cat was put in arena containing a flock of pigeons, and wagers were made to see how many it would take down. This is the origination of the expression ‘to put a cat amongst the pigeons’.

This species is widespread and relatively common in eastern and southern Africa. In South Africa and Namibia. they are expanding their range into new areas. However, in the forests of central and west Africa densities are apparently lower, possibly due to the presence of a larger number of other carnivores.

Caracals are known to prey on domestic stock, and are shot, trapped and poisoned by farmers. During the years 1931-1952 an average of 2,219 Caracals per year were killed in control operations in South Africa. Namibian farmers responding to a government questionnaire reported killing up to 2,800 Caracals in 1981.

The rate of predation on domestic livestock corelates to the availability of wild prey, and the husbandry techniques of livestock owners. If natural prey is abundant, and fences and other control measures protect domestic animals, predation on livestock is minimal. Unfortunately, the situation is often the reverse, and like all carnivores, Caracals will hunt what ever is easiest to catch.

Populations in Asian range states are included on CITES Appendix I; populations in African range states are included on Appendix II.  In Namibia and South Africa, the Caracal is classified as a Problem Animal, which permits landowners to kill the species without restriction. Nonetheless, Caracal remain widespread, and are present in many large, and well-managed protected areas across their vast range.


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