All of you will know about the big cats found in our area as they are popular animals to search for when on safari. Lion, cheetah and leopard are wonderful finds when looking for animals in our surrounding game reserves.
Of the three, lion and cheetah are found in game reserves only and do not wander about freely in South Africa. Leopard are still found outside of reserves and are often treated as the enemy by farmers when their cattle, sheep and chicken are eaten by wandering leopard. There have been sightings of leopard on our farm although I have only seen their spoor.
Lesser known cats are fantastic to sight on safari. There are 7 species of wild cats found in South Africa. Four of these are the smaller cats. These cats are found widely across the country outside of game reserves. Most are nocturnal and are difficult to spot so when one does, it is like an extra special treat. They are the caracal, serval, African wildcat and the black-footed cat. We have spotted the caracal and serval on our game farm.
A big problem in our area is of domesticated cats interbreeding with the wild cats especially the African wildcat. For this reason, housing estates in the bush usually have rules not allowing residents to keep pet domestic cats. Hoedspruit however does have a problem with stray domestic cats as do most other cities and towns in the world. We have an active group in town who catch stray cats and spay and neuter them before releasing them again. This helps stop the interbreeding. I have found a few spots in town when stray cats seem to hang out. One spot is at one of our local shopping centers.
This week when I came out of the shop I saw a beautiful kitten lying next to a pillar asking for tickles from all the passers-by. As a cat lover I could not resist so I spent a few minutes with her tickling and talking to her. When I got to my car I looked down and she had followed me across the parking lot. I picked her up and showed her to Cleo (our dog) who was waiting with the Bean at the car. The cat and Cleo just ignored each other. I looked at the Bean and she looked at me and we both knew that this kitten now had a new home. I went back into the shopping center to check if anyone knew who the cat belonged to or if it was one of the strays. They said it was a stray and that we were welcome to take her home.
Our new member of the family has settled in well. She is a small cat – I am not sure if she is still young or is naturally small boned. The more I watched her wander about, the more I thought that she had a slightly strange build and manner of walking, and then I remembered about the interbreeding with wild cats. After looking up more information I am convinced that we have a tame African wildcat on our hands. Whether she has domestic cat blood in her veins is still unclear although probable. She has been spayed and I assume it was done by our local cat charity. We have named her Savannah Lybica.
This is a picture of an African wildcat.
The African Wildcat is widespread in Africa, found also in the Middle East, but excluding the Sahara and rainforests.
African Wildcats diverged from the other Wildcat subspecies about 131,000 years ago. Some individuals were first domesticated about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East, which are the ancestors of the domestic cat. Remains of domesticated wildcats have been included in human burials as far back as 9,500 years ago in Cyprus.
SUBSPECIES of WILDCAT
- Felis silvestris lybica – African Wildcat
- Felis silvestris silvestris – European Wildcat
- Felis silvestris ornata – Asiatic Wildcat
The African Wildcat is a subspecies of the Wildcat (Felis silvestris) and is similar in size to domestic cats. In fact the African Wildcat is the ancestor of domestic cats.
The African Wildcat is also known as the Desert Cat, African Desert Cat or simply Wildcat. In Afrikaans (South Africa) vaalboskat means grey bush cat.
The African Wildcat looks similar to a short-haired domestic tabby cat, but has reddish colouring on the back of the ears, over its abdomen and on the back of its hind legs.
In investigating the features of the wild cat I see that Savannah has most of them.
- Due to the diversity of habitats where this cat occurs, there is a wide variation in colour. In the drier habitats and in the grasslands the colouring is shades of light brown, whereas in the wetter, forested areas, the colouring is grayer and darker.
- The coat has faint vertical stripes on the body, with dark rings on the legs as well as on the black-tipped tail.
- The chin and throat are white and the chest is usually paler than rest of body.
- There is a distinctive reddish colouring on the belly, backs of the ears and hind legs.
- The feet are jet black underneath.
- Evolution of Domestic Cats (lonestarcats.wordpress.com)
- 8 Obscure but Adorable Wildcat Species (mentalfloss.com)