Black-footed Cat Key Facts

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

Black-footed Cat (Felis Nigripes)
Black-footed Cat by Gerald Hinde
from the the book Cats of Africa

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 and has a ferocious demeanour.


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.

Black-Footed Cat Distribution Map
Black-footed Cat Distribution Map
Reproduced with permission from the book Cats of Africa

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.


Click through on the map for the updated Black-footed Cat distribution.

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.

Black-footed Cat Physical Characteristics
Black-footed Cat Physical Characteristics
Image Credit: Black-footed cat, showing black feet
© Chris Harvey /
Image Source ARKive with permission
Black-footed Cat Facial Characteristics
Black-footed Cat Facial Characteristics
Image Credit: Black-footed cat
© Anthony Bannister /
Image Source ARKive with permission


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 the body. When stalking or threatened, the ears are flattened to keep a low profile.


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

More Black-footed Cat Information and Fact Sheets

1. ARKive Wildlife Imagery and Fact File - Black-footed Cat Photos and Videos  

2. International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) - Black-footed Cat Fact Sheet  

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

4. Black-footed Cat Research South Africa - Black-footed Cat Working Group

Arkive video - Black-footed cat - overview