African Wildcat

An African wildcat relaxes in the sandy soils of the Kalahari.

The African wildcat is a shy, wild cousin of the domestic house cat which occurs widely across the continent.

Name:
African wildcat
Scientific Name:
Felis silvestris lybica
Weight:
3.2 to 4.5 kg
Length:
47–59.7cm (M) 40.6–55.8cm (F)
Mating Season:
Throughout the year

Description

The African wildcat is very closely related to the domestic house cat, and is the same approximate size as well. It is, however, less diverse in its appearance, as its fur color is typically brown and grey on most of its back and side, with black stripes covering its front and hind legs. Males and females are generally around the same size, bearing an average of 3,2 to 4,5 kg in total. Sizes vary widely from region to region, however.

Distribution

African wildcats are another widespread terrestrial-bound species of African mammal. The vast majority of Southern Africa, including South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique, all host African wildcats. Further north, they also thrive into the depths of the grasslands of East Africa, and the jungles of Western Africa as you approach the coast. The Somalian, Ethiopian, Sudanese and Egyptian coastlines are also full of them, and their range also extends along the entire Mediterranean coastline within Africa. They are absent in parts near Cape Town, the Namib Desert, the Sahara Desert and the densest and most tropical areas of the rain forests near the Congo and Cameroon.

Status

African wildcats are most definitely of least concern when it comes to conservation status. They are arguably some of Africa’s most widely spread small cat species, being found as far south as South Africa, and as far north as parts of the Middle East and Asia. Their survival as a species is greatly advantaged by their domestication and the abundance in human settlements where they are domesticated and kept as pets. They also scavenge on the waste of settlements where the outskirts of small towns border their natural habitat, sometimes attracting them in great numbers.

Habitat

This species is very open to any living environment, and settles in a variety of habitats which may include grasslands, jungles, forests, fynbos, mountainous areas and a host of others. This is because of the diverse range of that their prey - rodents, lizards, birds, insects and hares or rabbits - can be found in. They have even been observed living in treeless floodplains where they take refuge in burrows dug by other animals such as hyenas or aardvarks. Areas close to settlements and within agricultural zones are also used for living space by these animals, and this has greatly contributed to their domestication by people.

Social Organization

Wildcats in general are very much like house cats, especially considering that they are one in the same species with the only difference that house cats are domesticated. This means that they have the same kind of social organization in that they are territorial creatures who prefer not to share a territory or house with others. House cats are, however, more social and lenient when it comes to tolerating others of their species and have been known to form groups who feed together when there is a great surplus of food, while also raising young together in the process. Whether this is the same with African wild cats is unknown, but some observations of individuals hunting together do support this theory.

Social Behavior

They aren’t particularly social creatures and contact between individuals is rare, although not unheard of. They mainly hunt or forage during the night, and use their good sense of sight in the night to target prey almost their own size or even bigger, which includes scrub hares and spring hares in the Kruger National Park. They are fairly harmless to larger animals, although their sharp claws can slice through a person’s skin, still making them a hazard. They mark their territory and home ranges by spraying or urinating or by leaving piles of feces which they cover with sand, like domestic cats do.

Reproduction

They have quite a brief period in which mating can happen - when a female is in heat, driven by her need to mate and her instinct to expand her family and ensure the survival of her species. This period is typically 4 or so days long, and is followed by ovulation to ensure that the copulation is successful. Her litter of kittens averages at about 2 or 3 and are born within any secluded spot their mother can find in the habitat. Here they may be seen growing up over the course of the next few months.

Anti-Predator Behavior

Like house cats, they respond to calls of distress or by attacks with a hissing sound. They do also give out signs of a warning with low pitched humming or growling, to which their opponent either runs away or wanders closer. When a predator walks closer, they might take the coward's way out and run, although in Africa this might be the most realistically safe method. They are hunted down and threatened by a number of predators, which include just about any other cat or dog species like jackals, leopards, lions or caracals, in addition to eagles and other birds of prey who might easily make an easy meal out of their newborn kittens.

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