The wild cats of Africa are certainly one of the continent’s main draws. Visitors and wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world swarm to national parks like The Maasai Mara or Kruger National Park to see the majestic cats in the wild—especially the big cats.
From the cheetah, the world’s fastest land mammal, to the lion and leopard, two of Africa’s renowned Big Five animals, the big cats are a fierce sight to behold. But, did you know that there are actually numerous species of smaller wild cats in Africa? Although not as large or as charismatic as their big cat cousins, most of these small and medium wild cats are elusive and endangered, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you haven’t heard of them. They are, however, among the most beautiful wild cats of Africa, and seeing one in the wild is always a thrill.
The Caracal, Africa’s largest small cat, is easily identified by its distinctive ears, which have black tufts of fur at the tips. These little cats are notoriously difficult to photograph. Caracals prefer savannas, forests, and semi-arid environments. These wild cats of Africa are mostly nocturnal and weigh between 11 and 18 kilograms. Rodents, birds, and small mammals are among their prey. Aside from reaching speeds of around 80 km/h in short bursts, these wild cats can jump up to five meters in the air to snare birds in flight. Impressive!
The Serval is a graceful cat found in southern Africa’s open grasslands. There are eighteen subspecies known, with a small population remaining in Morocco. Despite being much smaller, servals are frequently mistaken for cheetahs due to their beautiful black-spotted coat. Servals are considered medium-sized cats in comparison to Africa’s big cats, with an average shoulder height of 60 centimetres and a weight of around 18 kilograms.
Their large ears provide them with exceptional hearing, allowing them to detect the smallest of rustles made by rodents in the long grass. Servals are active both during the day and at night, but they are much easier to spot during the day.
The Black-Footed Cat
The Black-Footed Cat gets its name from its black feet, as you might expect. These cats are the smallest of Africa’s wild cats, weighing only two kilograms but they are also the most dangerous to their prey, with a 60% kill rate. The Black-Footed Cat hunts small animals such as birds, rodents, and rabbits in savannas, grasslands, and semi-desert areas. These wild cats of Africa are nocturnal, solitary, and anti-social. They will sleep in abandoned burrows during the day, and interestingly, they rarely drink water because they absorb moisture from their prey.
The Tiny Sand Cat
This tiny desert cat is well adapted to the extremes of its desert habitat, both in terms of water scarcity and temperature fluctuations. F. m. margarita, the African subspecies, is slightly smaller and yellower than the Asian subspecies. Its ear canal is twice the size of that of a domestic cat, and its hearing is roughly five times more acute.
The African Wildcat
The African Wildcat is an endemic species of Africa and the ancestor of the domestic cat. These wild cats of Africa. which are found throughout the continent except in the Sahara and the rainforests, resemble pets rather than wild cats. The African Wildcat is about 45 to 75 centimetres long on average. They have distinctive tawny upper ears and are primarily nocturnal, feeding on mice and other small animals.
The Jungle Cat
The Jungle Cat is a medium-sized cat found in Egypt’s wetter regions, primarily along the Nile Delta. It is also referred to as the swamp cat and the reed cat. The largest Felis species, Jungle Cats have a somewhat uniform mixture of sand, grey, and brown fur. Except during mating season and when a female cat is raising her kittens, jungle cats live alone.
The African Golden Cat
Few people, even among the most knowledgeable wildlife lovers, are aware that the African Golden Cat exists, and even fewer have had the good fortune to witness one in the wild. The tropical rainforests of Central and West Africa are home to the African Golden Cat, a near relative of the caracal. Their normal range extends from Northern Angola down to the Central African Republic. These wild cats are well-built, and their coats range in colour from dark grey to reddish brown. Others tend to only have spots on their bellies and/or inner legs, while some people have spots all over.
Very little is known about African Golden Cats in comparison to the other wild cats of Africa because they were only first captured on camera in the wild in 2002. In order to better understand the distribution and ecology of the species, researchers are now striving to increase the information already available.