African Wildcat

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Felix silvestris

  • SWAHILI NAME: Chakapu; Paka shume; Kimbura

African wildcats look very much like domestic cats, and for a good reason—scientists believe African wildcats are the ancestors of domestic cats. Today, African wildcats are distinguished from their domesticated cousins by their heavier and longer legs. Their coat coloration varies across rainfall gradients; they’re paler in dry areas and darker in wetter areas.

African Wildcat

African Wildcat



Daily Rhythm




Life span

In captivity: 19 years

Conservation Status

Lower risk


Male: 9 to 14 lb (4.0 to 6.2 kg)
Female: 5 to 11 lb (2.4 to 5.0 kg)


Male: 21 to 26 in (54.5 to 66.5 cm) long, excluding tail
Female: 18 to 24 in (46 to 62 cm) long, excluding tail

African Wildcat

Tracks and Scat

Tracks: No claw marks; almost indistinguishable from domestic cat's
Scat: Almost identical to domestic cat's; typically buried

African Wildcat tracks

Trivia Question

What is the biggest threat facing African wildcats?


The biggest threat is breeding with domestic cats as this may cause the unique genes that make them African wildcats to disappear.

Social Structure

African wildcats hunt by themselves, though pairs or family groups sometimes hunt together. Males only join females that are in estrous; females remain solitary the rest of the time. Marked territories provide structure to the social system. Female ranges do not overlap, but a resident male’s territory may overlap with several female ranges in order to insure reproduction.


Few communication methods have been recorded for the African wildcat. Females produce short “want” calls when they are ready to reproduce. To communicate with neighbors and with members of the opposite sex, the African wildcat marks with urine, droppings, and tree scratching. For females, urine spray patterns advertise their reproductive status. Females may spray up to 50 times per night, while the spray count of males is approximately 183 a night.


African wildcats stalk, crouch, rush, and then pounce on their prey. They favor nighttime for hunting, but will extend their hunting hours into daylight depending on season and food availability.


The typical conservation issues, such as land degradation, human encroachment, and declining prey levels, do not threaten the African wildcat population. They are, however, at risk from high rates of hybridization with domestic and feral cats.

Range & Habitat

Subspecies of African wildcats inhabit almost all African countries and extend to the Arabian Peninsula, eastern Mediterranean Sea, Middle East, western India, and throughout much of Europe.

African wildcats adapt to a wide variety of habitats except for tropical forests and deserts, where they’re rarely found. African wildcats live on the fringes of open sand desert (they need cover to rest under), in the savannas of West Africa, and a range of elevated habitats in East and southern Africa. Agricultural croplands make ideal resting places, so these cats commonly live in areas with dense human settlements.


Only the diets of wildcat populations in southern African have been studied. There, rodents make up about 80 percent of the diet, which can also include hares, rabbits, squirrels, and the young of antelopes, goats, and sheep. When rodents aren’t plentiful, African wildcats eat more insects and other invertebrates—and whatever else they can catch.


Like domestic cats, African wildcats breed throughout the year, but the timing varies among regions. After a 56- to 65-day pregnancy, the female gives birth to between one and five kittens in a protected den. Females use burrows abandoned by other species for birthing and raising their young. Shelters in rock tumbles, crevices, or areas with dense plant life are preferred. The mother spends most of her time with her kittens (males play no role in the upbringing) and frequently moves them to new dens. Kittens nurse until approximately five weeks of age, when the mother supplements their diet with small, live prey. The live prey helps to wean the kittens and to encourage them to practice hunting. The kittens accompany their mother on hunts between the ages of one and three months. At about two months, most kittens leave their mother. Females can have two litters per year.

Friends & Foes

African wildcats play a significant role in controlling rodent populations near human settlements. Scientists aren’t sure whether cats were first domesticated in Cyprus, Southwest Asia, or ancient Egypt, where they figure prominently in art and mythology, but they believe the wildcat’s usefulness in killing rodents helped to endear them to people.

Population in Kenya & Beyond

African wildcats are common throughout their range, but habitat and region determine their density. In East Africa, the density is approximately one African wildcat in a 2.3- to 2.7-square-mile (6- to 7-km2) area.

African Wildcat

Did you know?

Male and female wildcats tend to eat different prey. Males can take down larger animals, such as antelope and sheep.