Brookfield Zoo Welcomes Its First Black-Footed Cat Kitten, the Least Domestic of the Domestic Cats

Born underweight on Valentine’s Day, the six-week-old black-footed cat has been nursed back to (reasonable) health. When it grows up, this member of a very old domestic cat species will be a tiny but fearsome hunter.

Black footed cat kitten Brookfield zoo

 

Yesterday I finally read about how the Brookfield Zoo nursed an underweight black-footed cat, born on Valentine’s Day, through a very tenuous period (they’re currently “cautiously optimistic”). So, being a cat person, I went home and watched videos of black-footed cats. As kittens they are, obviously, adorable.

They don’t grow to be very big—about half the size of a house cat—so they remain pretty cute, but they grow up to be very solitary hunters who can take down prey bigger than them, which they sometimes have to do in the wild when smaller prey is scarce. And they eat a lot:

The black-footed cat’s appetite is extraordinary. They are very successful hunters catching on average one vertebrate prey animal every 50 minutes. During the course of one night they eat prey amounting to one fifth of their own body mass. If their catch is too large to finish in one go, they hide it in their dens [ed. note: hollowed-out termite mounds] or even in aardvark digs and return hours later to continue feeding.

Here’s one at the Cat Conservation Trust in South Africa (the species is vulnerable, one step from endangered, and the most vulnerable of the sub-Saharan cat species with only about 10,000 in the wild). The Jack Russell terrier puts the size of the black-footed cat in perspective (music: Cypress Hill):

What I didn’t know before my brain returned for the workday and I started reading, was that the black-footed cat is the oldest, most “wild” cat in the domestic Felis genus, which includes actual domestic cats. The short of it is that domestic cats and a handful of wild cats (the Chinese mountain cat, the wildcat, and so forth) share a common lineage; the black-footed cat was the first to branch off, unless you include Pallas’s cat, which once was the case but now it’s complicated. So the black-footed cat isn’t just at the forefront of science—recently bred through IVF in the womb of a Felis catus—it has a rich history, which looks a bit like this (PDF):

domestic cat lineage

Photograph: Brookfield Zoo

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