Black-footed cat: conservation and threats in 2023

Known threats include indiscriminate predator control methods, predation within guilds, disease and unsuitable agricultural practices

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Black-footed cat: conservation and threats in 2023

The black-footed cat it is the smallest African feline. The length of the body and head is 36–52 cm, while the tail is about half as long. The weight of the females is around 1.5 kg, while the males weigh from 2 to 2.5 kg.

Characteristic of the cat is the dark color of the paws, while the fur is tawny gold in color with black or brown spots. The black-footed cat hunts at night and its favorite preys are rodents, birds and arthropods. It is considered one of the deadliest Pastorio felines in the world, given that the successful outcome of the hunt occurs in 60% of cases.

Its distribution is limited to Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

Its conservation to 2023

Known threats include indiscriminate predator control methods, such as poisoning by lures and steel jaw traps, habitat destruction through overgrazing, declines in South African spring hare populations, predation within guilds, disease and unsuitable agricultural practices.

Several black-footed cats have been killed by sheepdogs. Most protected areas may be too small to adequately maintain viable subpopulations. The Black-footed Cats Working Group carries out a research project at Benfontein Nature Reserve and Nuwejaarsfontein Farm near Kimberley, Northern Cape.

This project is part of a multidisciplinary effort to study the distribution, ecology, health and reproduction of the black-footed cat. In November 2012, this project was extended to Biesiesfontein Farm located in the Victoria West area.

Between 1992 and 2018, 65 black-footed cats were radio-collared and followed for extended periods to improve understanding of their social organization, habitat size and use, hunting behavior, and diet composition. Camera traps are used to monitor the behavior of radio-collared black-footed cats and their interaction with herding wolves.

Wuppertal Zoo acquired black-footed cats in 1957 and succeeded in breeding them in 1963. In 1993 the European Endangered Species Program was established to coordinate which animals are best suited for mating to maintain genetic diversity and avoid consanguinity.

The international studbook of the black-footed cat was kept in the Wuppertal Zoo in Germany. As of July 2011, there were detailed records of a total of 726 captive cats since 1964; worldwide, 74 people were detained in 23 institutions in Germany, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Several zoos have reported breeding successes, including the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, the Brookfield Zoo, and the Philadelphia Zoo. The Audubon Nature Institute's Center for Research on Endangered Species is working on advanced genetics involving cats.

In February 2011, a female kept there gave birth to two male kittens, the first black-footed cats born as a result of IVF with frozen-thawed sperm and frozen-thawed embryos. In 2003, sperm was collected from a male and then frozen.

It was later combined with an egg from a female, creating embryos in March 2005. Those embryos were frozen for nearly six years before being thawed and transferred to a surrogate female in December 2010, who carried the embryos to term, resulting in birth of the two kittens.

The same center reported that on February 6, 2012, a black-footed kitten, Crystal, was born to a surrogate house cat after interspecies embryo transfer.