Saving Southern Africa's smallest wild cat
Farmer's Weekly|Farmer's Weekly 24 September 2021
Marion and Richard Holmes, who live near Cradock in the Eastern Cape, have made it their life’s ambition to conserve the vulnerable black-footed cat and African wildcat. They spoke to Annelie Coleman about the methods they employ.
Annelie Coleman

FAST FACTS

Africa’s smallest wild cat species, the black-footed cat (Felis nigripes) is classified as the most vulnerable of all the sub-Saharan small wild cats.

It is estimated that there are only about 10 000 black-footed cats left in the world.

These tenacious animals are fierce hunters; a single cat can kill as many as 3 000 rodents a year.

Marion and Richard Holmes began their conservation work in 2000 and established the Cat Conservation Trust on their 3 440ha Clifton Game Farm near Cradock in 2004. The objective of the trust is to rehabilitate, breed and, where possible, release the black-footed cat (Felis nigripes) and African wildcat (F.lybica). This article focuses on their work with the former.

According to Marion, there are fewer than 10 000 black-footed cats left in the world. They are classified as vulnerable, but because of their secretive behaviour there is not enough information available to determine their true status.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora states that the black-footed cat is the most vulnerable of all the small wild cats in sub-Saharan Africa.

The International Society for Endangered Cats states on its website that the black-footed cat faces human-made threats such as overgrazing and loss of habitat, leading to a reduced prey base. Another serious problem is that farmers indiscriminately poison carcasses to kill caracals and jackals in order to curb livestock predation, and the black-footed cat scavenges these.

BEAUTIFUL PREDATORS

The black-footed cat occurs mainly in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. It is Africa’s smallest wild cat and the second-smallest in the world, weighing in at between 1kg and 2,5kg, with a shoulder height of 16cm to 25cm.

It is tawny in colour and marked with dark lines and spots, and the soles of its feet are black or dark brown. It has a short tail, broad skull, prominent ears, and eyes that reflect blue at night.

The black-footed cat is a highly opportunistic hunter, feeding mainly on rodents and birds, as well as insects, spiders, geckos and snakes. Highly tenacious and fierce, it can kill prey as large as a korhaan or a hare. It maintains a 60% hunting success rate, and can consume 3 000 rodents a year, making it a great friend of the farmer.

The cats shelter from the heat of the sun in abandoned termite mounds or springhare burrows, which has earned them the name of miershooptier or ‘anthill tiger’. These solitary animals drink little water, as they derive the moisture they need from their prey.

The black-footed cat’s gestation period is 63 to 68 days, and it can produce two litters a year. The litters vary in size from one to four kittens.

HOW THE CAT CONSERVATION TRUST BEGAN

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