Africa’s Small Hunters

Africa’s iconic big cats are well documented, but the continent’s plains, grasslands, forests and wetlands are home to smaller felids whose statistics are just as impressive.

7 of Africa’s forgotten wild cats are as followed 
  • Serval (Leptailurus serval)
  • Caracal (Caracal caracal)
  • Sand cat (Felis margarita)
  • African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica)
  • African golden cat (Profelis aurata)
  • Black-footed cat (Felis nigripes)
  • Jungle cat (Felis chaus)

Serval (Leptailurus serval)

Servals are predators with a perfect pounce (credit: Ole Jorgen Liodden / naturepl.com)

Servals are predators with a perfect pounce (credit: Ole Jorgen Liodden / naturepl.com)

With its long legs and super-sensitive hearing, the serval is perfectly equipped for hunting on the savannah. This nocturnal predator has perfected its pounce, leaping up to 3.6m to land precisely on its prey, stunning or killing it on impact.

Caracal (Caracal caracal)

Caracal means 'black ears' in Turkish (credit: Kurt Stricker / Getty Images)

Caracal means ‘black ears’ in Turkish (credit: Kurt Stricker / Getty Images)

Common across Africa, the caracal gets its name from its striking ears – caracal means ‘black ears’ in Turkish. These largest of Africa’s small cats are extraordinary acrobats, capable of leaping 3m into the air and taking out multiple birds with one swipe.

Sand cat (Felis margarita)

Sand cats are desert specialists with thick fur (credit: Edwin Giesbers / naturepl.com)

Sand cats are desert specialists with thick fur (credit: Edwin Giesbers / naturepl.com)

Known as ‘the cats that dig holes’ by Saharan nomads, these tiny cats are the only felid to be found exclusively in the desert. Thick fur on the soles of their feet protects them against the hot sand, and their dense coat keeps them warm at night.

African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica)

African wildcats were ancestors of our pets (credit: Ariadne Van Zandbergen/Getty Images)

African wildcats were ancestors of our pets (credit: Ariadne Van Zandbergen/Getty Images)

A subspecies of the most common wildcat, the African wildcat has a lighter build, fewer markings and a tapering tail. First domesticated about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East, these first feline friends were the ancestors of our modern pets.

African golden cat (Profelis aurata)

The golden cat wasn't photographed until 2002 (credit: Rod Williams / naturepl.com)

The golden cat wasn’t photographed until 2002 (credit: Rod Williams / naturepl.com)

The only forest-dependent wild cat in Africa, the elusive golden cat is largely unstudied and wasn’t even caught on camera until 2002. These powerful, sturdy animals are about twice the size of a domestic cat and named for the colour of their fur.

Black-footed cat (Felis nigripes)

Black-footed cats can devour 3,000 rodents a year (credit: Dave Hamman / Getty Images)

Black-footed cats can devour 3,000 rodents a year (credit: Dave Hamman / Getty Images)

Africa’s smallest wild cats are to be found in the grassy plains and deserts of South Africa. Solitary and nocturnal, these remarkable survivors can devour 3,000 rodents a year. If there’s no water available they can obtain all the moisture they need from food alone.

Jungle cat (Felis chaus)

Jungle cats actually inhabit tall grass and reeds (credit: Rupal Vaidya / Getty Images)

Jungle cats actually inhabit tall grass and reeds (credit: Rupal Vaidya / Getty Images)

Despite their name, jungle cats actually inhabit the tall grasses and reeds of Egypt’s wetlands. Although these cautious predators are notoriously difficult to tame, a small number have been found among the cat mummies of Ancient Egypt.

Rtr. Sethil Muhandiram

President 18-19

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