Black-footed Cat - Felis Lineage
Black Footed Cat (Felis nigripes) by Ltshears (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes) is the smallest cat in Africa and the second smallest of all wild cats. It is endemic to the arid regions of southern Africa where it is naturally rare and occurs at low densities. These cats, despite their small size, can travel vast distances in search of sparse prey, and have special adaptations to cope with their semi-arid to arid environment.

Felis Lineage

1. Jungle Cat (Felis chaus)

2. Chinese Mountain Cat (Felis bieti)

3. European Wildcat (Felis silvestris)

4. African & Asiatic Wildcat (Felis lybica)

5. Sand Cat (Felis margarita)

6. Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes)

Key Facts about Black-footed Cats

~ Second smallest of all cats ~

~ Requires little drinking water ~

~ Endemic to southern Africa ~

Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes) Classification

Black-footed Cats belong to the genus Felis and the full taxonomy or scientific classification of the Black-footed Cat species is as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia (animals)

Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)

Class: Mammalia (mammals)

Order: Carnivora (carnivores)

Suborder: Feliformia (cat-like)

Family: Felidae (cats)

Subfamily: Felinae (small cats)

Genus: Felis

Species: Felis nigripes (Black-footed Cat)

Subspecies: none

The scientific name for the Black-footed Cat is Felis nigripes which is also known as the binomial name, species name, latin name, biological name or zoological name. Some use the term 'botanical name' however that term is only applicable to the plant kingdom (botany) and not the animal kingdom (zoology).


Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes) Classification Chart
Click chart to download.
Permission to use for personal or educational use.

Male Black footed Cat (Felis nigripes) © Dr Alexander Sliwa

Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes) Subspecies

Two subspecies of Black-footed Cats have been recognized in the past:

1. Felis nigripes nigripes - northern range (lighter base color and markings)

2. Felis nigripes thomasi - southern range (darker base color and markings)

However the last Felidae taxonomy revision in 2017 suggested that only the species Felis nigripes is valid and thus monotypic (no subspecies). There is insufficient variation to substantiate a subspecies split and just a northern and southern race is more appropriate.

Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes) Research

Here is a list of papers published on Black-footed Cats. Click on the title bar to view the abstract and the link to the article.

This year we made a joint trip to assist in establishing a new study in southern Namibia, on farmland in Grünau (GR) from 24 February 2 March 2020 and then to exchange and capture new individual black-footed cats (BFC) in the current long-term study area, Benfontein Nature Reserve (BFN), near Kimberley from 2 - 8 March 2020. We also report here, in abbreviated form, on the Black-Footed Cat Research Project Namibia which is managed locally by Martina Küsters (wildlife specialist) and Morgan Hauptfleisch (NUST).


Sliwa, A.; Wilson, B.; Küsters, M.; Herrick, J,; Lawrenz, A.; Lamberski, N.; Hartmann, A.; Anver, J.; Schroeder, M.; Shipala, N.; Hauptfleisch, M.
Black-footed Cat Working Group - Report on surveying, catching and monitoring Black-footed cats (Felis nigripes) on Benfontein Nature Reserve, South Africa and on Grünau Farms, Namibia in 2020
2021  DOI:10.13140/RG.2.2.17733.78569
The use of camera traps as research tools for the study of black-footed cats at refuge entrances is detailed. This provided information on interspecific relationships with aardwolves. When operated with care they served to obtain ecological information on black-footed cats, including behavioural and reproductive data. Camera traps were also used to monitor the behaviour and welfare of recently anesthetised and recovered study individuals to keep further disturbances to a minimum.
Sliwa, A.; Wilson, B.; Lawrenz, A.; Lamberski, N.; Herrick, J.; Küsters, M. Camera trap use in the study of black-footed cats (Felis nigripes) 2018  African Journal of Ecology (56): 895-897

The black-footed cat (Felis nigripes) is sympatric with several species of larger carnivores, although it is not known how this species partitions resources with potential competitors.

From 2006 to 2008, we captured, radio-collared, and monitored 3 adult black-footed cats on Benfontein Game Farm in South Africa. We investigated their spatial, habitat, temporal, and dietary overlap with Cape foxes (Vulpes chama), bateared foxes (Otocyon megalotis), and black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas) that were monitored during a concurrent study.

Annual home range sizes of black-footed cats were 7.1 km² for the adult female, and 15.6 and 21.3 km² for the two adult males. Home ranges overlapped completely with the canid species, whereas core areas overlapped the most with jackals (79%), compared to Cape foxes (28%) and bateared foxes (21%). Within home ranges, black-footed cats selected habitats in proportion to availability, similar to Cape foxes, but in contrast to jackals and bat-eared foxes. Black-footed cats were primarily nocturnal, and their activity patterns significantly differed from jackals (P < 0.001), marginally differed from bat-eared foxes (P = 0.082), but did not differ from Cape foxes (P = 0.717). Dietary overlap of blackfooted cats was high with Cape foxes (R0 = 0.83), compared to jackals (R0 = 0.42) and bat-eared foxes (R0 = 0.12). Two black-footed cats were killed by predation, at least one of which appeared to be by jackals.

We conclude that black-footed cats coexisted with jackals by using burrows during the day, and by partitioning activity and diets, but not space. In contrast, black-footed cats appeared to coexist with Cape foxes by partitioning space, but not habitats, activity, or diets. Black-footed cats exhibited relatively low amounts of overlap with bat-eared foxes across resources. Our results show that black-footed cats partitioned resources differently among the sympatric canids, which ultimately facilitated coexistence with these larger carnivores.

Kamler, J.F.; Stenkewitz, U.; Sliwa, A.; Wilson, B.; Lamberski, N.; Herrick, J.R.; MacDonald, D.W.
Ecological relationships of black-footed cats (Felis nigripes) and sympatric canids in South Africa
2015  Mammalian Biology (80): 122-127

View more articles on Felis nigripes in the IUCN Cat Specialist Group database (scroll down once the library page is loaded to see the list).

Consider joining the Friends of the Cat Specialist Group to access the full articles and receive their journal Cat News covering the latest wild cat research.

Black-footed Cats (Felis nigripes) at den by Hayden Oake

Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes) with kittens by Kenneth W Fink

Black-footed Cat Conservation

The global conservation status for the Black-footed Cat is Vulnerable (VU) due to its restricted range in arid regions of southern Africa, where it is naturally rare and occurs at low densities.

The Black-footed Cat Working Group has a long term monitoring program in South Africa, assisted by funding from ISEC in Canada.

Please support this group with their important work if you can. No matter the size of your contribution, every bit helps!

Black-footed Cat Facts and Information

The following organizations have well researched and authoritative information on Black-footed Cats: