Wild Cats of Africa – Their Unique Characteristics

The wild cats of Africa are one of the most fascinating animals to see in the African bush. Each cat is known to have a unique character that is adaptive to the specific environment they are situated in. They are carnivorous in nature and are known to be at the top of the food chain as primary consumers.

Apart from the well-known big cats, Africa has a total of ten different wild cats species found in different parts of the continent. They come in different sizes with the lion being the biggest among the big cats while the rest range in size. One of the biggest challenges of wild cats of Africa is habitat loss, poaching and human conflicts in their quest to find food and good breeding grounds for their young ones.

African Lion

The African Lion is characterized as a muscular-deep chested cat. It has a short, rounded head, rounded neck, rounded ears and a hairy tuft at the end of the tail. Males are known to start growing a mane from the age of one year which starts to darken as they age. Their life expectancy in the wild is around 10 to 14 years, weighs between 130 kg to 190kg with the males being heavier.  Female has a gestation period of 110 days and gives birth to 1 to 4 cubs who are born blind and start seeing after around 10 days.

Wild Cats of Africa

Lions are known to leave in groups called pride that consist of related females and their young ones with one to four males who are in charge of the territory where the pride inhabits. A young male is normally chased out of the pride at the age of two years but the female remains. The young males usually come together and form a coalition. By the age of four years, they take over a pride and start mating with the females to produce their own offspring.

This big cats are very social animals and are known to hunt together. They share the kill with the dominant male taking the bigger share even though the female lead in hunting.

African Leopard

The Leopard is known as the most secretive and elusive of the big cats. They are solitary animals inhabiting an area alone and only coming together to mate or when a female has cubs. The young cubs stay with the mom till when around 14 months then, they wander off on their own.

They have a variety of coat colour depending on habitat and location. It may vary from pale yellow to deep gold and sometimes black. Their coat is decorated with rosette patterns while the head, belly and lower limbs have solid black spots.

Wild cat of Africa

This cat is known to inhabit a wide range of habitats around Africa from desert and semi-desert areas. Savannah grasslands to mountainous forest making them the most distributed big cat in Africa. They are also known to survive on a variety of prey targeting various herbivores and even birds.

Although leopards are always photographed on top of trees, they spend most of their lives on the ground. However, they climb trees when running away from possible threats, to hide their kill from scavengers or get a vantage view of their prey. The leopard’s biggest threat is human and habitat conversion.


The cheetah is known as the fastest land mammal bursting to a speed of up to 112 kph/70mph. They normally inhabit dry forests, scrubs forests and Savannah. Though they have lost most of their habitat due to human settlement, poaching and illegal pet trade.

Cheetahs are distinguished from other big cats by their slender body, long legs, a tan coat with black spots, small head and ears with a distinctive tear stripe that stretch from their eyes to the nose. They are sociable cats despite being territorial with the males living in groups called coalition while the female lives with their offspring.

They are active during the day with hunting taking centre stage and their favourite kill being small antelopes and gazelles.

Wild cats


Caracal is a middle-sized cat that is known to be nocturnal, highly secretive and very difficult to sight. It is characterized by a uniformly reddish tan or sandy coat, long legs, short face, long-tufted ears, and long canine teeth. It is a territorial cat and mostly lives alone or in pairs.

The caracal is known to prey on small mammals, rodents and birds. It is known to leap up to mid-air to catch birds. In ancient times, the caracal used to be tamed and used for hunting of birds.



This is a medium-sized cat native to Africa. It is characterized by a small head, large ears, golden brown coat that is spotted and with black stripes and a short black-tipped tail. It has the longest legs on any cat relative to its size.

They are active both in the day time and night. They maintain minimal social interaction and prey on rodents, small birds, frogs, reptiles and insects. They are known to leap up in the air and land on their prey with their forefeet. They can catch birds flying mid-air.

Serval Cat

African Wild Cat

African wild cats are widespread all over African and are most active at night looking for prey. They have the very good hearing capability and locate prey very fast. This cat mainly feeds on mice, rats, birds, reptiles and insects. Ancient Egypt was known to domesticate this cat which was used to control rodents in their granaries.

African Golden Cat

The African Golden Cat is medium-sized, compactly built with short legs. It is said to be a close relative of the serval and caracal and mainly inhabit tropical forests and prefers the dense areas with heavy undergrowth. They are solitary animals and little is known of their behaviour. They can climb trees though they prefer to hunt on the ground. They mainly feed on tree hyrax, rodents, birds, small monkeys, duiker and other small antelopes. They have also been known to take down poultry and livestock.

Black-Footed Cat

Black-Footed cat also known as a small-spotted cat is the smallest African cat mainly found in southwestern arid areas of South Africa. Despite its name, only the pads and underparts of the feet are black. It is a rarely seen cat as it is solitary and nocturnal as they spend most of the day sleeping in unoccupied burrows and only hunt at sunset. Unlike other cats, they are poor climbers and avoid tree branches but are good at digging and can extend their sleeping burrows to desired size and shape.

Sand Cat

The sand cat is the only cat known to live in true deserts. They have long hairs covering the sole of their feet making them well adapted to the extremes of a desert environment and tolerant to extremely hot and cold temperatures. This cat is known to do well in both sandy and stony deserts far from any water source. The sand cat is known to prey on rodents found in desert areas such as lizards, vipers, sandfish. If they catch more than they can feed, they bury the surplus and consume it later. They get most of their moisture from their prey but if there is water nearby they do drink.

Sand Cat

Also Read ==>  The Big 5 of Africa

==> Small 5 Animals

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2 Responses

  1. Gomer says:

    This is exactly why I want to visit Africa, particularly Kenya. To see the cats of Africa! 

    I love cats, if only I can have one of them as pets, like the Lion, I will.

    In one of the social media posts of my friend, I saw him ride a vehicle with protective screens on the their windows and windshield. They said it’s the Safari Tour, they are driving through a land filled with these cats. Some of the female lions including their cubs, they climbed atop the vehicle salivating at the tourists. That was so exciting and I’d like to experience the same someday.

    I’d like to see the picture of the African Golden Cat. Maybe you can post one in a comment.

    • Anita says:

      You are welcome to come for a safari in Kenya.

      It is not advisable to keep a lion as a pet as they are wild and as they grow up you will look like a meal to them and not necessarily it’s keeper.

      It seems the place your friend went the cats are not accustomed to tourists hence the protective screens. In Kenya, most wild cats are well habituated to vehicles and tourists and don’t pose any threat but one is advised not to leave their vehicles, or even try to pet wild cats.

      The African golden cat is a very elusive cat, very rare to see and the only good pictures taken of it were taken through a hidden camera.

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