Wild Tracks

On behalf of the world's wild species

Little Bitty Kitty

Quick – how many of the 37 wild cat species can you name?

And how many wild cats can you name that weigh under five pounds as adults?

Although I’m tempted to stop there and make you wonder, I will tell you that the answer is two. Both the rusty spotted cat and black-footed cat weigh just 2-5 lbs as adults. Now that’s a tiny kitty – about 150 of them required to make up the bulk of a tiger.

Black-footed cat having a big stretch. Photo Dr. Alex Sliwa

Black-footed cat having a big stretch. Photo Dr. Alex Sliwa

Black-footed cats are definitely ‘cats with an attitude.’ Small desert dwellers of the Kalahari Desert in Africa, they have to be tenacious to survive such a hostile environment. Competing with jackals, caracals and hyena for food, they also have to be quick and clever.

Dr. Alex Sliwa and his team of researchers have been studying these endangered little felines in South Africa since 1993. They have seen instances of this tiny wild cat taking prey larger than themselves. They don’t shy away from biting and stinging prey like scorpions and snakes, and he’s seen a cat jump with bared claws and fangs into the face of a black-backed jackal, an animal 8 times the size of the cat. They stalk springbok lambs, blue cranes and even bigger birds clearly beyond anything they can take down, but tenacity and hope keep them trying.

Dr. Sliwa says “The biggest prey I watched Lamu 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.”

Now that’s a determined attitude that could be translated into human terms as never give up, no matter how impossible your goal. You never know, there was just the slightest chance that little black-footed cat could have latched onto the big bird’s neck, and even a slight chance is better than no chance at all.

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For more information on the black-footed cats and some great photos from the researchers, see their website

The field research study on these tiny cats is part of a multidisciplinary effort to study their distribution, ecology, health, and reproductive status over an extended period. To learn more or make a contribution towards the project, visit this website

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