African Wildcat Physical Characteristics
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.
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 Facial Characteristics
The face of an African Wildcat 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.
African Wildcat Identification
When catching a glimpse of wildlife in the bush it is often difficult to identify an animal, especially if lighting is poor, or you do not see the full animal. Here are some pointers to help you confirm whether what you saw was an African Wildcat.
African Wildcats are about the size of a domestic housecat. Seen from a distance at night it can be very hard distinguish this cat from any other small animals of a similar size like genets and mongooses. However, if you can get a clear, daylight sighting in a wild area and the animal resembles a domestic tabby cat with an overall greyish coat, with slightly longer legs than a domestic cat, chances are it is an African Wildcat. Also look out for reddish tinges of the ears, on the belly and hind legs.
Bear in mind African Wildcats can breed with domestic cats as they are genetically closely related, so a 'wildcat' on someone's farm or private reserve may not necessarily be a purebred African Wildcat.
If you are in a semi-arid area in southern Africa that may also support Black-footed Cats, the difference will be in size and coat pattern. The Black-footed Cat is much smaller, about half the size of a domestic cat and has a spotted coat. Both species have stripes on their limbs, a black tipped tail and footpads with black undersoles.
African Wildcats look very similar to Jungle Cats, however Jungle Cats are about twice their size, have a white muzzle and small tufts on their ears. In Africa, Jungle Cats only occur in a very small range in the far north of Egypt, so that is the only place there would be an overlap in sightings.