African Wildcat Key Facts

* Ancestor of the domestic cat  *  Reddish ears  *  Breeds with domestic cats *

African Wildcat Information

SCIENTIFIC NAME Felis silvestris lybica 

NAME The African Wildcat is also known as the Desert Cat, African Desert Cat or simply Wildcat. In Afrikaans (South Africa) vaalboskat means 'grey bush cat'. 

SIZE The African Wildcat is a subspecies of the Wildcat (Felis silvestris) and is similar in size to domestic cats. In fact the African Wildcat is the ancestor of domestic cats. 

HISTORY African Wildcats diverged from the other Wildcat subspecies about 131,000 years ago. Some individuals were first domesticated about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East, which are the ancestors of the domestic cat. Remains of domesticated wildcats have been included in human burials as far back as 9,500 years ago in Cyprus.

IMAGE African Wildcat by Gerald Hinde
IDENTIFICATION The African Wildcat looks similar to a short-haired domestic tabby cat, but has reddish colouring on the back of the ears, over its abdomen and on the back of its hind legs. 

UNIQUE BEHAVIOUR Although African Wildcats are listed as common and widespread in Africa, their genetic integrity is threatened by interbreeding with domestic and feral cats. It is becoming quite rare to come across a pure bred African Wildcat.

Video: African Wild Cat, Kgalagadi by Nico Bulder

African Wildcat Distribution

The African Wildcat is widespread in Africa, found also in the Middle East, but excluding the Sahara and rainforests. This map shows the distribution for all the Wildcat (Felis silvestris) species. 

Felis silvestris lybica - African Wildcat 
Felis silvestris silvestris - European Wildcat 
Felis silvestris ornata - Asiatic Wildcat

View the most recent IUCN Wildcat distribution map

IMAGE Wildcat Distribution Map - reproduced with permission from the book Cats of Africa

African Wildcat Description

BODY The African Wildcat looks similar to a short-haired domestic tabby cat, but has relatively longer legs and a long thin, tapering tail. When sitting upright, their long legs cause the body to be in an almost vertical position. This cat is similar looking to the Jungle Cat but is much smaller.

COAT Due to the diversity of habitats where this cat occurs, there is a wide variation in colour. In the drier habitats and in the grasslands the colouring is shades of light brown, whereas in the wetter, forested areas, the colouring is greyer and darker. The coat has faint vertical stripes on the body, with dark rings on the legs as well as on the black-tipped tail. The chin and throat are white and the chest is usually paler than rest of body. There is a distinctive reddish colouring on the belly, backs of the ears and hind legs. Hybrids from interbreeding with domestic cats can be a mixed colouring, confusing identification.

IMAGE African Wildcat by Gerald Hinde
HEAD The face looks like a typical domestic cat, with an angular shape, faint vertical stripes on the forehead and diagonal markings on the cheeks. The nose is pink and there are white markings around the eyes and mouth. The backs of the ears have a reddish tint, a feature which is often used to distinguish a pure bred African wild cat from hybrids. 

AGE In the wild - unknown In captivity - up to 15 years

IMAGE African Wldcat by Gerald Hinde

More African Wildcat Information and Facts

  1. ARKive Videos and Photos taken in the wild
    ARKive - Wildcat - wildlife imagery
  2. International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC)
    ISEC - African Wildcat - fact sheet
  3. IUCN Cat Specialist Group
    IUCN CatSG - African Wildcat - detailed information
ARKive image - African wildcat stalking in long grass

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