African Wildcat Key Facts

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

African Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica)
African Wildcat by Gerald Hinde
from the the book Cats of Africa

African Wildcat Information

SCIENTIFIC NAME Felis silvestris lybica


COMMON NAMES 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'.


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, and 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.

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 (South Africa) by Nico Bulder
Wildcat Distribution Map
Wildcat Distribution Map
Reproduced with permission from the book Cats of Africa

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


Click through on the map for the updated Wildcat distribution.

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.

African Wildcat Physical Characteristics
African Wildcat Physical Characteristics
Image Credit: African wildcat stretching
© J & B Photographers /
Image Source ARKive with permission
African Wildcat Facial Characteristics
African Wildcat Facial Characteristics
Image Credit: African wildcat sleeping
© Brigitte Marcon / Biosphoto
Image Source ARKive with permission

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.

More African Wildcat Information and Fact Sheets

1. ARKive Wildlife Imagery and Fact File - Wildcat Photos and Videos  

2. International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) - African Wildcat Fact Sheet  

3. IUCN Cat Specialist Group (CatSG) - Detailed Information and Academic Reference List - African Wildcat Information

Arkive image - African wildcat stalking in long grass