Black-footed Cat Key Facts

* Second smallest of all wild cats * Endemic to Southern Africa * Requires no drinking water *

Black-footed Cat Information

SCIENTIFIC NAME Felis nigripes 

NAME ORIGIN The Black-footed Cat is named after the black undersides of its feet. It is also called the Small Spotted cat after its tiny size and the spots on its coat. In Afrikaans (South Africa) it is called a miershooptier, which means "Anthill Tiger", as it often makes its den in abandoned termite mounds. 

SIZE The Black-footed Cat is the second smallest cat species in the world and the smallest African cat, weighing a maximum of only 2.5 kgs. 

IDENTIFICATION The Black-footed Cat is very small, covered with small dark spots and has a short face similar to domestic cats. 

UNIQUE BEHAVIOUR The Black-footed Cat lives in arid regions and obtains all its moisture from its food. It requires no drinking water at all.

IMAGE Black-footed Cat by Gerald Hinde

Black-footed Cat Distribution

The Black-footed Cat is endemic to Southern Africa and found only in the arid parts of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Southern Angola.


IMAGE Black-footed Cat Distribution Map - reproduced with permission from the book Cats of Africa

Black-footed Cat Description

SIZE The Black-footed cat is one of the smallest cat species in the world, less than half the size of an average domestic cat. Males are larger than females. 

BODY The Black-footed cat is very similar looking to a long-haired domestic cat, and has a short thin tapering tail. It has a large broad head relative to its small body and often flattens its ears.
The short tail has black rings and a black tip. The pads of the feet are black (which is where the species name comes from) and have long black hairs. The hairs help silence the approach of the cat, as well as protecting its feet from the heat of the ground. 

COAT The coat is pale and has numerous small dark spots all over it. The spots sometimes join to form stripes or bars, especially on the legs. The coat pattern is unique for each cat and can be used to identify individuals. The base colour ranges from reddish-fawn in the southern parts of its range to much paler in the northern drier regions.

IMAGE Black-footed Cat Physical Characteristics
HEAD The face has a typical domestic cat appearance with diagonal black lines running the outer corner of each eye across the cheeks. The chin and throat are white and there are two or three distinct dark bands on the chest. The plain ears are slightly rounded and the same base colour as the rest of body. When stalking, the ears are flattened to keep a low profile. 

AGE In the wild - less than 8 years In captivity - up to 16 years

IMAGE Black-footed Cat Facial Characteristics - Image by Gerald Hinde

More Black-footed Cat Information and Facts


  1. ARKive Videos and Photos taken in the wild
    ARKive - Black-footed Cat - wildlife imagery
  2. International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC)
    ISEC - Black-footed Cat - fact sheet
  3. IUCN Cat Specialist Group
    IUCN CatSG - Black-footed Cat - detailed information
  4. Black-footed Cat Research
    Black-footed Cat Working Group
ARKive photo - Black-footed cat with kitten


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