Top Ten Cats #5 – Black-footed cat, Felis nigripes

You wouldn’t believe this creature is well-known for its ferocity. Yup, this cute like snugglefluff! Well the San people (a group of tribes in Southern Africa) regard it so highly as a hunter they tell a legend of a black-footed cat killing a giraffe by leaping to its jugular! (Credit: Zbyszko)

Felis is a genus that, frankly, I could make a whole top ten list out of. There will be two of them featured on this list. One of them is not up for debate. The other representative, today’s black-footed cat, well it was a debate.

My personal choice would have been Felis silvestris grampia – the Scottish Wildcat. It is the only wildcat native to my isles, it is a beautiful little chonky thing, they have these adorable, fluffy rounded tails (whereas most domestic cats have pointed ones) and it was so hard to leave out but…I had to.

I promise I will get around to Felis silvestris grampia one day, but besides the obvious there is one member of the Felis genus that ironically stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Look at those hypnotic, emerald-green eyes. How is this one of the most effective feline predators? It’s a teddy-bear! It’s too cute to be a killer! (credit: Patrick Ch. Apfeld)

I say ironically because it is one of the world’s smallest known cats. Beaten, I believe, only by the Rusty Spotted Cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus) even then there might be some debate. Obviously individuals vary so there may be a smaller black-footed than the smallest rusty-spotted – who knows, either way the black-footed cat is diminutive to say the least.

With a body length of roughly 30-50cm, I mean, I used to have a ruler in my pencil case at school that was 30cm, that’s nothing. They’re basically the size of, say, a 6-9 month old domestic cat kitten.

Kitten tax! A black-footed cat and her kitten in Utah’s Hogle Zoo. I want to hug and squish it. (Credit: Hogle Zoo via Zooborns)

What’s more, they look like ‘em too, adult black-footed cats look like kittens. Black-footed cat kittens just look like super-kittens. There’s a reason for the absurd number of images in this article, aren’t they just fucking brain-meltingly adorable!?

Well don’t get too close because what you are looking at is, based upon our observations, the single most successful (by percentage) murderer in the Felidae. But most cats, they’ll catch one or two things and be done for the day – maybe even a few days with big cats. Black-footed cats? They kill and kill and kill again! Studies of their hunting behaviour done in 1993 estimated a kill every 50 minutes during their nocturnal hunting sessions, with up to 14 small rodents eaten in a single night!

I know, right? I’m sitting here smiling to myself about the fact that something that looks like a stuffed toy is a mass-murdering serial killer. It’s so violently cute.

Paying double kitten tax because…AWWWWWWWWWWWW! (Credit: Philadelphia Zoo via zooborns)

If the stats as observed are to be believed they have a hunt/kill percentage of around 60%, making them likely, statistically, the single most efficient, effective killing machine in the Felidae. How could I exclude it?

I have already explained, as far as I am concerned, effectiveness and efficiency be damned, the feline form is the single most graceful and elegant solution to the problem of needing to murder to eat on land that life and evolution has ever come up with.

I will admit, I think the shark the far better form – but it is comparing apples to oranges. There are limitations to being on land that water doesn’t have, air is a much thinner medium reducing the need to minimise drag so you can have, say, big, inefficient ears if it helps you hear the prey better but if a shark had them they’d slow them down by a few metres-per-second and the whole thing falls apart.

The thing is. It’s also fucking cute.

I think sharks are cute, but I understand I may be weird in that regard. But lots of people back me up on the cats.

Maybe you can’t see the cute face, but you can see the sleek form and the black bottoms of its feet from where it derives its name. (Credit: Ltshears)

Nobody goes to bat for the assault rifle, SARS-Cov-2 is not cute and the dinosaurs didn’t gaze up above North America and go “Awww, a shooting star! MAKE A WISH!” There are few genuinely deadly things on this planet that you can say “That’s adorable!”

If you told me I had to die today but I get to pick any means of death, then stick me in a room full of these things while they’re hungry and I’ll leave with a pained, agonised smile on my face. I’d be being eaten alive by murder kittens. I’d want that on my fucking gravestone!

What’s the point of the nitty-gritty here? Do we need details? It’s a felis. It’s like your cat but smaller. You ever seen a cat? Shrink it, give it black feet, you got it! It does have one hell of a beautiful coat, a sandy-colour with striking black blotchy-spotty markings.

A rare spotting in the wild! Taken at the Marrick Game Lodge, in the Northern Cape Province in South Africa, near Kimberly. I’d love to go wild-cat spotting. (Credit: Tim Ellis)

It eats what all small cats eat, anything it can! Small birds, rodents, lizards, probably the odd insect or two when it’s bored. I could guarantee if you were cooking something up the cat’d want it. You know cats; you know the black footed cat.

The Felis genus should get mad props, though, they spread, filled niches, speciated and diversified whilst being, more-or-less, the same across Europe, Africa and Asia. They are the ancestors (specifically the African wildcat, Felis lybica) of our own domestic cats, the domestic (Felis catus) being its own separate species.

They exist, as far as we can tell, only in a specific part of Southern Africa, inhabiting grasslands like savannahs and shrubland. They are almost exclusively nocturnal and, as much as you’d want to see three of these little cuties snuggling, they are very solitary, excluding mothers with kittens.

They are very wary and cautious, which makes sense when you’re tiny, living in a land of huge predators and you look like a tasty snack. It will hide away in crevices, cracks or, most likely, the abandoned burrows of other animals like aardvark or springhare.

The biggest threat, as depressingly ever, is us. From indiscriminate predator control (even though a black-footed cat taking a livestock animal is ludicrous) to pest control methods involving poisoning, trapping, as well as habitat loss and exploitation, we do the most damage to these cute little cats.

Thankfully there are increasing successes in captive breeding and, black-footed cats ARE wild. I am not sure they would need re-wilding, I think they’d fit right in.

A black-footed cat doing what it does best during the day, hiding! As a small predator there is a lot on the plains of Southern Africa that would kill and eat this little, adorable, killer bastard! So being stealthy and hiding is a vital skill to their survival. (Credit: Charles Barilleaux)

But there’s something about the black-footed cat. Something cute, kitten-like, something that makes you want to hug it, even though that would probably earn you a few stitches.

Tiny but ferocious, small but effective – they are the feline embodiment of ‘size doesn’t matter’! For as little as I have to say about this brutal, adorable little feline, I will just try to cram this article with as many images as possible because those pictures speak for themselves.

A species shouldn’t have to be cute to demonstrate that is worth conservation effort, study and care. But it really helps.

Bonus points for counting how many times I said ‘cute’ in this article…but…Look at it!

The face of the cutest little efficient killer on the planet? I certainly think so. (Credit: Nathan Rupert)

Got a craving for more cat? Check out our last entry, number 6 the lion, Panthera leo.

Otherwise come back tomorrow for number 4! An oldie but goldie.

I feel like I’ve been getting a lot of my kitten-tax payments from Zooborns lately so I’m going to give a shout-out to them. Essentially a compilation of news of the latest baby animals born in the zoos, with videos and/or photos. It’s really cute and worth a visit if you’re a baby animals fan. Just click this paragraph to go there.

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

An overly curious lovechild of Grumpy of the Seven Dwarfs and the kitsch pen section of Paperchase. Karl is on a mission to expose the seedy underbelly of academia, and thus making it appealing to wrong 'uns.

9 thoughts on “Top Ten Cats #5 – Black-footed cat, Felis nigripes

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