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African wild cat | Felis Lybica

Conservation Status

Least Concern (IUCN 3.1) Least Concernhttp://www.cites.org/eng/resources/species.html

Scientific classification  
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Species: Felis silvestris lybica


Shoulder Height:



35 centimetres (14 inch)


45 – 75 cm (17.7 – 29.5 inch)

 Mass:   (female)

3 – 4 kg


5 – 6.5 kg

Tail Length:

20 – 38 cm (7.87 – 15 inches)




56 – 60 days

Litter size:

2-5 average

Life span:

15 years

The African wild cat is sandy brown to yellow-grey in color, with black stripes on the tail. There are always six vertical dark bands on the flanks, as well as horizontal dark bands on the legs and rings on the tail, which has a black tip. The fur is shorter than that of the European subspecies. It is also considerably smaller: the head-body length is 45 to 75cm (17.7 to 29.5 inches), the tail 20 to 38cm (7.87 to 15 inches), and the weight ranges from 3 to 6.5kg. The African wild cat is classified as CITES Appendix II, because of it tendency to breed with domestic cats.

African Wild Cat pawprints

African Wild Cat Scat

  • Habitat:

The African wild cat is found throughout the sub-region in all habitats except for the desert; depends on cover to hide during the day.

  • Food and Habits:

The African wild cat feeds on poultry, rodents, birds, reptiles, insects, hares, and wild fruit. The African wild cat is a solitary creature with well-developed senses, which it uses to pursue its prey.  They rest in any convenient hole in the ground, in hollow trees, among rocks or in dense vegetation.
The males and females both spray urine to mark their territories and scat is buried in the manner of a domestic cat.
Kittens are born in summer when there are lots of rodents around.
Spitting with the ears flattened is a defensive threat, while arching the back and tail and fluffing up the hair is a neutral threat. Caterwauling precedes aggression.

  • History of the African wild cat:

The African wild cat looks a lot like a domestic cat, except it has longer legs, reddish ears, and it sits more upright than domestic counterpart.  The similarities are not entirely coincidental, as domestic cats originated from wild cats.
They were first domesticated 5000 years ago in Egypt.  The people of the time were agriculturalists and stored the grain that they harvested annually in baskets.
These abundant stores naturally attracted mice, which in turn attracted the local wild cats.  Because of the favour the cats provided humans by controlling the grain pests, they were encouraged to stay treats of fish that were left out for them.
With a constant supply of food, no harassment from people, and no natural enemies to threaten them around human habitations, the wild cats quickly habituated.
Gradual genetic mutation resulted in the approximately 100 domestic breeds we find today.  Sadly the true form of African wild cat is being lost through hybridisation with domestic cats in many areas.

  • Conservation:

A major threat to the existence of this species is crossbreeding with domestic cats, especially in rural areas that lie adjacent to game reserves. 

  • Reproduction

The African wild cat has a gestation period of 56-60 days. The typical litter consists of 2-5 kittens which are generally born in the rainy season. The kittens are blind and helpless when born, and their eyes open at 10-14 days old. After four to five weeks the kittens are mobile, and by three months old are able to join their mother when hunting. By five months old they are fully independent. The kittens are fully grown at one year old, and the females are able to breed at this age. Males are fully mature at age 2 to 3 years old.

  • An African tale about African wild cats:

The tree-climbing Jackal
A story from Swaziland

Jackal was well known for playing tricks on his fellow creatures. They mistrusted him, but in spite of this, he fooled them time and again.  The animals also disliked Jackal because he was a most annoying boaster.
Now one day, while out hunting for food, Jackal met an African Wild Cat lounging elegantly on the branch of a tree.  Jackal was jealous as this was something he could not do.
“Why do you climb trees, African Wild Cat?” he asked
She replied that it gave her an excellent view, so that she could see friend or foe coming from a long way off.  Also, climbing trees was a handy way of escaping from the dogs that were forever chasing her.
“Oh, what a coward you are!” sneered the Jackal.  “Only cowards, snakes and silly birds hide in trees.”
African Wild Cat’s feelings were hurt, but she kept her temper, knowing that Jackal was a nasty trickster and thinking it would be better to keep on the right side of him.  “Do not forget,” she replied patiently, “I cannot run as fast as you and dogs are my natural enemy.”
“I can run faster than any creature in the land,” boasted Jackal.  “Let those scruffy old dogs come – I’m not afraid of them – anyway, I could outrun them any day.”
“That may be so,” she replied gently, “but the art of climbing trees has its use in times of trouble, you know.  Would you like me to teach you?”
Jackal considered this generous offer.  “Hmmm…well knowledge can never hurt one,” he replied airily, “and I’ve nothing better to do at the moment.”  Secretly, he was rather anxious to learn.
African Wild Cat came down from her branch and Jackal was given his first lesson.  But alas, he was not a very good pupil because his claws were too blunt to grip the bark.  He kept slipping and falling on his back in the dirt.
Polite as she was, African Wild Cat could not help laughing at the sight of Jackal, the oh-so-clever one, scrabbling furiously up the trunk of the tree and falling in a heap every time.
Jackal was getting angrier and angrier and suddenly he flew into a rage.  He turned and snapped at poor African Wild Cat, grabbing her leg and snarling that he would kill her for making him look ridiculous.
That would most certainly have been the end of her, but fortunately for her a pack of dogs suddenly appeared barking furiously.  Jackal took one look and instantly was no longer the brave animal of his boasting.
Jackal let go of African Wild Cat's leg and she scrambled up her tree to safety, while Jackal put his tail between his legs and ran.  He dived down a nearby anteater hole just as the dogs were about to catch him.  The dogs tried to dig him out, but they could not reach him. After a while they gave up and went away.
Now Jackal crept out of the hole and to his shame saw African Wild Cat grinning down at him from her perch.  She burst out laughing as he slunk away to mend his wounded pride.
From that day on, whenever African Wild Cat happened to see Jackal she took refuge in the nearest tree because Jackal never forgot how she had seen his cowardice and his desire for revenge was truly something to fear.


  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_wild_cat
  • (http://www.cites.org - species page) New site developed: http://www.speciesplus.net/
  • www.agarman.dial.pipex.com/lybica.html
  • Walker, C. (2000) A field guide to the spoor and signs of the mammals of Southern Africa. Struik: Cape Town. pp. 112
  • Emmett, M. (2010) Game Ranger in your Backpack. Briza Publications: Pretoria pp.123
  • Smithers, R. H. N. (1983) The mammals of the Southern African subregion. University of Pretoria: Pretoria. pp.262-265
  • Greaves, N. (1993) When hippo was hairy. Struik Nature: Cape Town. pp. 45-47
  • http://carnivora.proboards.com

Research was done by Erika Dirksen.



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