The outstanding hunting success and high energy activities of the black-footed cat

Alex Sliwa is the go-to man on the hunting activities of this highly successful, small wild cat species. We are told that pretty well everything we know about this cat species comes from Alex Sliwa and his detailed observations. I’m picking out some of the salient points as I see them.

We know, that black-footed cats are outstandingly active and successful hunters. This is as reported in Wild Cats of the World by the Sunquists. They say that black-footed cats make one hunting attempt every 30 minutes with a 60% success rate. It puts the domestic cat to shame and feral cats! This is the best hunter of all the cats.

Black-footed cat
Black-footed cat. The image of the cat is published under a CC license. The image is by MikeB at PoC.
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Sliwa followed radio collared cats for over 2,800 hours observing over 2,000 kills which is getting on for one kill every hour. The black-footed cat hunts throughout the night under a range of conditions which in South Africa varied in temperature between -10°C to 30°C.

In the Northern Cape Province of South Africa where Sliwa conducted his research, three quarters of the prey captured by black-footed cats were shrews, mice and gerbils but they represented only 39% of the total weight of prey consumed. Twenty-one percent of prey captured consisted of birds such as larks and pipits. They also caught and killed bustards which are about one third to one half of the cat’s body weight.

They also eat insects but despite large numbers consumed they only represent about 2% of the weight of prey eaten. Birds and rodents are the staple diet of the black-footed cat. Sometimes they managed to kill Cape hares which are half to twice the cat’s body weight.

During a night’s committed hunting a cat would kill a bird or mammal every 50 minutes. During one night they will kill between 10-14 small birds and rodents. This is about 300 g of food representing 20% of the cat’s body weight.

Tigers, by comparison, normally eat 20% of their bodyweight in one night when feeding on a large kill but they might go several days between kills without eating.

The black footed cat keeps on eating! To the Sunquists, it is unclear why black-footed cats have such high energy requirements but it may be because they have high metabolic rates. Or perhaps it is because they are unnaturally active.

They tend to gorge on large prey animals like bustards eating as much as 20-30% of their bodyweight.

Sliwa observed a male black-footed cat feeding intermittently on a three-kilogram springbok lamb. He consumed about 1100 g of meat in 2.5 days. In one night, he returned to the carcass four times and eight 120 g at each sitting. At the same time, he continued to hunt and kill small birds and rodents.

Sometimes black-footed cats hide (cache) large kills which is unusual for small wild cats.

Because people are so impressed by the black-footed cat’s prowess in hunting, they tend to exaggerate by reporting that they kill sheep and goats by clamping their jaws onto the neck of the animal and hanging onto them until they die. However, they do have a reputation for being fierce and highly determined and committed hunters.

One person who used to run a wild cat breeding facility in California described the species as “sand cats with an attitude”. For example, Sliwa observed a female preparing to attack an 80 kg male ostrich sitting on a nest! It seems the cat was genuinely going to attack this huge prey animal. She was about to pounce when the bird stood up. It’s feet were bigger than the cat.

They normally use the classic nape of the neck bite to kill prey (back of the neck). They don’t tend to pluck birds before eating them. They don’t pluck small birds but have been observed to pull a few wing and body feathers from the larger birds.

This cat overpowers struggling prey animals by lying over the animal and placing their forepaws on either side, using the dew claws to hold the prey animal firmly against the ground. They then wait for the right moment to deliver the killing neck bite according to P. Leyhausen in his 1979 report Cat behaviour: The predatory and social behaviour of domestic and wild cats.

This feline is known to be the most successful and impressive hunter of all the wild cat species on a pound-for pound basis.

Below are some more articles on the black-footed cat.

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