Categories: Wildcat

African Wildcat

The African Wildcat is the ancestor of the Egyptian Mau, a purebred show cat. That is what they say. It is also thought by some people that the first domestication of the wildcat took place in Egypt when this cat was domesticated for the first time. We are talking some 4,000 years ago (although the oldest evidence – 9,500 years old – comes from Cyprus) . The domesticated wildcat was useful. It became a working cat, killing rodents and snakes in Egypt. Today, the domesticated wild cat has become both a glamorous show cat in the United States and a persecuted feral cat in Egypt.

Southern African wildcat. Photo by hyper7pro on Flickr.

As for the wildcats of Africa, they still occupy large tracts of continent. They are still hunted with hounds and they still interbreed with domestic cats reflecting the similarity between the domestic and the wildcat versions of the same species.

The established story of domestication of the wildcat may be disturbed by the statement on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (Red List) website that says that DNA analysis indicates that the domestic cat diverged from the wildcat 100,000 years ago (“diverged more than 100,000 years earlier”). Or have I misinterpreted that?

This wildcat’s scientific name is Felis silvestris lybica.

This cat is a subspecies of the widely distributed wild cat. The Sunquists (Wild Cats Of The World) categorise it as the African-Asian wildcat as its range extends to Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. On this page I have shown below the range in Africa, however. The Asian wildcat is listed as a separate subspecies by the Sunquists with the scientific name: Felis silvestris ornata


The African wildcat looks like a regular domestic tabby cat in many ways (in all ways perhaps). It is said that one difference between them is the long legs of the wildcat. The ancient Egyptian paintings and mummy cases show a cat in a pose that cannot be replicated by the domestic cat the Sunquists say (in Wild Cats Of The World). I actually question that when we factor in purebred cats such as the F2 Savannah cat for example. I am also unsure that the African wildcat does in fact have legs that are significantly longer than those of the domestic cat.

The great similarity to the tabby domestic cat can be seen in this video although the more refined selectively bred purebred cats are more distant in appearance

The coat of this wild cat varies considerably, varying from grey to a reddish colour. There are no spots sometimes or they can join up to form stripes. The coat type seems to vary with habitat. The darker coats and more heavily marked cats are found in the less arid areas.

The tail ends in a black tip. This is a classic shorthaired cat.

African Wildcat Range 2009

The map below shows where the African wildcat is not present in Africa, please note. I did this is the “negative” because this cat is meant to be widely distributed and it avoids me having to trace around thousands of miles of coast!

The small blue area is an island habitat where the cat is found within the larger area where it is not found. To clarify: the map shows where this wild cat is not found in Africa.

Ecology and Behaviour

As can be imagined the type of landscape in which this cat lives varies considerably bearing in mind the enormous range. Their range overlaps (is sympatric with) the ranges of the other wildcats of Africa – see Wild Cats of Three Continents. And of course with other carnivores.

The African Wildcat lives from sea level to 3,000 feet above sea level. They require water (rainfall at a mean annual rate of at or over 100 mm) and/or water courses. The sand cat is a species that can, when forced, take all its water needs from prey, incidentally.

Like all cats, the habitat should provide some sort of cover, be it from rocks, shrubs or even farmers crops etc. Some examples of habitat enjoyed by this cat in Africa would be:

PlaceHabitat  – source: Sunquists
Ngorongoro CraterNo trees – grassland
BotswanaOpen woodland and grassland in areas of wetlands and rivers
Zimbabwe -Wankie National ParkDrier woodland and scrub

It hunts on the ground (as opposed to in trees – arboreal cats such as the margay). It is a good climber nonetheless. It is nocturnal. Hunting is most often carried out by a single cat but occasionally they work in groups, apparently.


  • primarily rodents (their preference) but they are very adaptable and will bend to suit conditions
  • occasionally larger animals such as hares and young antelope
  • 3-4 kg is the top end for size of prey
  • lambs (livestock)
  • poultry and other birds
  • insects
  • reptiles
  • snakes
  • fruit
  • hunting spiders (Botswana semi-desert areas)

As to ranges, the African wildcat is, as usual, territorial and it is thought that home ranges extend to about 1.6 kms² (Kenyan male wildcat).

Reproduction and Development

Time in Development or pre-birthEvent (source: Sunquists)
Female on heat for 8 days and several times a year
Gestation (pregnancy)56-65 days
Birth – number of kittens1-5 (normally 3) in underground den, rock crevices, brush and farmers’ fields occasionally. Birth peak in wet season (prey abundance).
Birth – weight80-120 grams
9-11 days after birthEyes open
First 30 daysNursing
4 weeks oldKittens are mobile
60 days old +Kittens eat live prey brought by mother and at 63+ days they catch prey (mice) themselves
1 year of ageLeave natal area to find home range
DieAbout 15 years in captivity

Threats and Conservation

You can see websites where people advertise the pleasures of hunting this cat with dogs.

Other threats:

  • hybridization by cross mating with the domestic cat or feral cat – it is said that the Wildcat generally is often not a purebred. However, research published in 2000 indicates that the Southern African Wild cat is genetically distinct to the domestic cat. Update: conservation status at 2014.
  • disease transmission from feral and domestic cats
  • killed as pests
  • there used to be a trade in skins


The African Wildcat is classified Least Concern by the Red List:

“Least Concern (LC) is an IUCN category assigned to extant species or lower taxa which have been evaluated but do not qualify for any other category. As such they do not qualify as threatened, nor Near Threatened, nor (prior to 2001) Conservation Dependent” – Wikipedia®

The wild cat populations are generally decreasing. The Red List does not quote a figure for population size of the wild cat in Africa.

It is only protected in some areas of Africa. The wild cat is CITES Appendix II listed (“Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled” – CITES).

Attempts are being made to limit hybridization with feral cats.

From African Wildcat to Wild Cat Species

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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