IUCN Black-footed Cat Distribution Map
Interactive map of the Black-footed Cat's range by the IUCN Red List

The Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes) distribution is limited to the arid habitat of three countries in southern Africa. No subspecies are recognised, although a northern and southern race is discernible within the range.

Black-footed Cat Distribution in Africa

Of the five regions of Africa, the Black-footed Cat only occurs in the southern African region (endemic).

The cat is found only in the semi-arid habitats of this region, primarily in just three countries (IUCN Red List):

North Africa: absent

West Africa: absent

Central Africa: absent

East Africa: absent

Southern Africa: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa (marginally in Zimbabwe and southern Angola)

Black-footed Cat Subspecies

Two subspecies of the Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes) have been recognized in the past:

1. Felis nigripes nigripes - northern part of range (lighter base colour and markings)

2. Felis nigripes thomasi - southern part of range (darker base colour and markings)

However the last taxonomic revision of the Felidae cat family in 2017 suggested there is insufficient variation to substantiate a subspecies division, and just a northern and southern race is more valid.

For the full classification of this wild cat see Felis Lineage - Felis nigripes Classification.

Black-footed Cat Subspecies

Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes) in Dry Grassland Habitat
Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes) in Dry Grassland Habitat

Black-footed Cat Habitat

The typical habitat of the Black-footed Cat is arid, open savanna or grassland to semi-desert, excluding the driest regions of the deserts. These cats are superbly adapted to these harsh environments in order to cope with low prey density and extreme temperatures. Adaptations include its small size, inhabiting underground burrows and low moisture requirements.

The IUCN Red List has standardised habitat types globally and the following types are suitable for Black-footed Cats (IUCN Red List):

  • Savanna - Dry
  • Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
  • Desert - Hot

Where to see Black-footed Cats in Africa

All of the medium to smaller cats are very difficult to spot in the wild. Many are nocturnal or crepuscular and rarely seen during the day. The best chances are to visit the national parks or local nature reserves of each country within their distribution, and go on the early morning and late afternoon to evening game drives. For the rarer species it is advisable to hire a specialist wildlife guide.

To get an idea of where the cat has been seen, have a look at iNaturalist. This is a global citizen science platform where people can post their sightings of animals in the wild. Identification is verified by other members and subsequently conservationists and scientists use this data in their important work.

Here is a link to view the sightings that have recently been posted:

Black-footed Cat Observations

(Note there are also images of dead animals if you are a sensitive viewer.)

If you have been lucky enough to spot one of the smaller cats in your travels, no matter how long ago, please upload your images to the platform and thus help with research and conservation of this species.

Another excellent resource if you are planning a trip to Africa is the Mammal Watching website. Here comprehensive trip reports and mammal lists are posted by travellers that focus on observing the mammals of the world. Check out the trip reports listing Black-footed Cats in their sightings checklist and possibly some have photos.

Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes)
iNaturalist Black-footed Cat Observation South Africa - © Niall Perrins CC BY-NC

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Namibia Travel Guide 2022
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Botswana Travel Guide
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