Skip to Content

10 Wild Cats of Africa (All African Wild Cats You Need to Know)

While most of us know a couple of wild cats of Africa, can you name all of them? It’s okay if you can’t. We are all here to learn.

As such a diverse continent, Africa is a mecca for nature lovers and animal spotters.

We don’t recommend you venture out on your own to spot these wild cats in Africa because it can be dangerous for you and the animal. Instead, join a safari tour and ensure the animals will be and feel safe.

Whether you have homework to do, are homeschooling your kids, or are curious about African cat species, you’ll find a bunch of information about these beautiful felines.

In today’s article, we’ll talk about all African wild cats, from the tiny black-footed cat to the massive lion. Let’s get to it!

What Is a Wild Cat?

A wild cat is a member of the Felidae family. Under this family, only the tigers, lions, jaguars, and leopards belong to the Pantherinae subfamily. All other types of wild cats, including the cheetah, belong to the Felinae subfamily.

There are 46 different species of wild cats in the world, and they are native to Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Only Antarctica and Australia don’t have any native wild cats. 

In this article, we will discuss wild cats in Africa. Let’s learn interesting facts about those fantastic animals and their characteristics, diet, range, and habitat.

All 10 Wild Cats of Africa

Here are all ten wild cats of Africa divided into small, medium, and big cats.

Small Wild Cats of Africa

Sand Cat (Felis margarita)

Sand Cat among Rocks
The sand cat is one of the smallest wild cats of Africa
  • Lifespan: unknown in the wild, but up to 17 years in captivity
  • Tail length: 9.1 to 12.2 inches
  • Total length: 15 to 20 inches
  • Height: 9.4 to 14.2 inches
  • Weight: 3.3 to 7.5 pounds
  • Top speed: 19 to 25 mph

Sand cats have a light sandy to gray-brown coat that is occasionally striped on the legs, slightly darker on the back, and lighter on the tummy. 

Their limbs are short, and large eyes and low-set ears are on their broad head. Sand cats are well adapted to live in very dry, desert environments with little flora. 

They are sand-dwelling species that live on rocky slopes and dry areas where the weather is extreme.

This species of African wild cats usually consume tiny rodents, like spiny mice, jirds, jerboas, and hamsters. But they also prey on hares, birds, spiders, insects, and reptiles. 

The IUCN classified the sand cat as Near Threatened in 2002, but luckily by 2016, it had been downgraded to Least Concern.

However, it doesn’t mean the dangers faced by the species have disappeared. The sand cat is particularly at risk from habitat deterioration because desert habitats like theirs are sensitive to human settlements and activities.

Did you know? Sand cats are daring snake hunters and can live from water from their prey.

Black-Footed Cat (Felis nigripes)

A timid black-footed cat staring nervously
  • Lifespan: unknown in the wild, but up to 10 years in captivity
  • Tail length: 5.9 to 7.9 inches
  • Total length: 13.3 to 19.7 inches
  • Height: 9.8 inches
  • Weight: 1.1 to 5.4 pounds
  • Top speed: 1.9 mph

The black-footed cat, Felis nigripes, is the tiniest African wild cat and the second-smallest wild cat in the world. 

The smooth, dense coat varies in color from dark to light tawny gold, and it has a striking pattern of rounded, dark brown to black spots that occasionally combine to form bands or rings.

The soles of the feet have black fur to protect them from the hot sand. The tail is about half the length of the head and body.

Distribution-wise, black-footed cats only live in Southern Africa – Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa.

The Kalahari and Karoo deserts, as well as short medium-length grass plains, scrub deserts, and sand plains, are among their primary habitats.

Despite their size, they are one of the most aggressive and skilled hunters among wild cats in Africa. They sneak up on prey before attacking and have been known to catch flying birds. 

Black-footed cats can consume a range of small mammals, insects, and reptiles since they are opportunistic hunters. 

According to the IUCN, black-footed cats are listed as Vulnerable.

Did you know? Even though this small wild cat isn’t on the list of the most dangerous African animals, it is the deadliest wild cat in the world because she hits her target 60% of the time.

African Wildcat (Felis lybica)

An African wild cat at Kalahari desert, South Africa
  • Lifespan: up to 11 years in the wild and 19 years in captivity
  • Tail length: 9.5 to 14.5 inches
  • Total length: 16 to 23.5 inches
  • Height: 14 to 16 inches
  • Weight: 7.1 to 9.9 pounds
  • Top speed: 50 mph

These wild cats in Africa are about as big as domestic cats. They have legs that are longer than those of domestic cats, which allows them to sit up straighter and walk differently. 

Its coat has a variety of background colors, including radish, sandy yellow, tawny brown, and gray, and is often speckled with faint tabby spots and dark stripes. 

Their legs are striped with black bars, and their hair has black ends that give it a speckled appearance. The backs of their ears have a reddish or rusty-brown color, which is a defining characteristic of the group.

This African wild cat is distributed through South Africa through Egypt, as well as parts of central and southwest Asia, including India, China, and Mongolia.

The African wildcats can survive in a wide range of habitats, including deserts, savannahs, scrub grasslands, and open and mixed forests.

Rodents, including rats, mice, and voles, are the main food source for African wildcats. It occasionally hunts martens, weasels, polecats, rabbits, insects, frogs, lizards, and fish. 

Additionally, wild African cats can prey on juvenile antelopes and small animals. Those cats are most active at night when they hunt for prey. 

They can precisely identify prey thanks to their extremely sensitive hearing. Then, they patiently move towards their prey while hiding among the plants.

According to the IUCN, the African wildcat is listed as the Least Concern.

Jungle Cat (Felis chaus)

Jungle cat, Felis chaus, in the desert
  • Lifespan: unknown in the wild, up to 20 years in captivity
  • Tail length: 8.3 to 14.2 inches
  • Total length: 23 and 30 inches
  • Height: about 14 inches
  • Weight: 4.4 to 35.3 pounds
  • Top speed: 20 mph

Closely related to the domestic cat, the jungle cat is a feline with reddish, sandy brown, or gray coat, which lacks spots. It has a black-tipped tail marked by two to three dark rings on the last third of the length.

Because of its long legs, short tail, and tuft on the ears, the jungle cat resembles a small lynx, but they are not directly related.

In addition, this African cat is found in North Africa, more specifically in Egypt, and in Asia and preys on rats, mice, young wild pigs, birds, squirrels, lizards, snakes, and frogs.

Despite being listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, the jungle cat is considered threatened in several regions.

Did you know? Ancient Egyptians used jungle cats for hunting birds and were featured many times in Egyptian art.

Medium Wild Cats of Africa

African Golden Cat (Caracal aurata)

An African golden cat sitting on the jungle floor
  • Lifespan: up to 12 years
  • Tail length: 6.3 and 18.1 inches
  • Total length: 24 to 40 inches
  • Height: 15 to 22 inches
  • Weight: 12 to 35 pounds
  • Top speed: unknown

The tropical forests of both Central Africa and West Africa are home to one of the rarest wild cats in Africa, known as the African golden cat. 

It is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN red list because of threats from bushmeat hunting and deforestation.

The African golden cat’s fur can be chestnut or reddish-brown, grayish-brown, or dark. Some have patches on them, ranging in color from fading tan to black. 

This African wild cat prey on squirrels, small duikers, birds, hyraxes, monkeys, and bats.

Did you know? The African golden cat is referred to as “the brother of the leopard” maybe the main reason for this is that they share the same habitat and golden cats from Africa frequently follow leopards.

Serval (Leptailurus serval)

Serval standing in tall grass in savanna
  • Lifespan: up to 10 years in the wild and 20 years in captivity
  • Tail length: about 12 inches
  • Total length: 26 to 39 inches
  • Height: 21 to 24 inches
  • Weight: 18 to 40 pounds
  • Top speed: 50 mph

The serval is a medium-sized wild cat in Africa referred to as the “cat of spare parts” because of its lengthy legs, stretched-out neck, and large ears. 

These cats’ strange-looking body parts make them extremely effective hunters, though. As such, the serval is the greatest hunter among the wild cats of Africa. Compared to lions hunting in pride, that is around 20% better.

One serval consumes about 4,000 rodents annually. On average, they eat any animals that are tiny enough for them to catch, such as grasshoppers, snakes, and even large birds like storks and guinea fowls. 

Additionally, they practically never consume leftovers of other animals, unlike the majority of other wild cats in Africa.

The IUCN classifies the serval as Least Concern.

Did you know? The serval has the largest ears of any wild cat.

Caracal (Caracal caracal)

Caracal portrait
  • Lifespan: up to 12 years in the wild and 17 years in captivity
  • Tail length: 7.1 to 13.4 inches
  • Total length: 28 to 43 inches
  • Height: 16 to 18 inches
  • Weight: 15 and 42 pounds
  • Top speed: 50 mph

These medium-sized wildcats can be found in parts of the Middle East, Africa’s savannas, and forests.

Typically, their coat is tawny or reddish gold with white patches on the chin, neck, and underside. Of course, all African cats are majestic, but the caracal appears to wear a feline crown.

The species is distinguished by its wide, pointed ears with tufted black tips. Caracals are opportunistic hunters who will take any prey they can get their hands on, including tiny monkeys, birds, young antelopes, mongooses, fish, reptiles, and rodents.

They can jump up to 10 feet high on their powerful hind legs and catch birds in the air with their strong, hooked claws. Like leopards, caracals occasionally climb trees and hide their prey.

Thankfully, most of the species’ range is covered by legal protection, like in Kruger National Park. According to the IUCN, the caracal is listed as the Least Concern. 

Did you know? The word caracal is derived from the Turkish word kara kulak, which means black ear.

Big Cats of Africa

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

Cheetah sitting in its natural habitat
  • Lifespan: up to 10 to 20 years
  • Tail length: 23 to 33 inches
  • Total length: 3 ft 7 in to 4 ft 11 in
  • Height: 29 to 35 inches
  • Weight: 46 to 159 pounds
  • Top speed: 81 mph

The cheetah is the fastest wild cat of Africa. It typically moves at just about half that speed when pursuing prey, though. A cheetah must rest for 30 minutes after a chase before it can eat.

They have a white underbelly, a tawny yo creamy coat, and are almost totally covered in tiny black patches.

African cheetahs live in a wide range of environments, including grasslands and dry, open places. 

Also, cheetahs usually hunt in the early morning and late afternoon, when they are most active, unlike most carnivores.

They consume a wide range of animals, including Thomson gazelles, springboks, warthogs, hares, birds, wildebeests, zebras, and impalas.

According to the IUCN, the cheetah conservation status is listed as Vulnerable.

Did you know? The cheetah is not only the fastest species of wild cat in Africa but also the fastest of all land animals, with a maximum speed of 81 miles per hour over short distances. 

African Lion (Panthera leo)

Male African lion looking out atop rocky outcrop
  • Lifespan: up to 15 years
  • Tail length: 2.3 to 3 feet
  • Total length: 5 ft 2 in to 6 ft 8 in
  • Height: 3 ft 6 in to 3 ft 9 in
  • Weight: 265 to 420 pounds
  • Top speed: 50 mph

African lions have been honored throughout history as symbols of courage and strength.

These creatures are considered one of the big five animals and have some of the strongest bodies in the wild cat family. They are only second in size to tigers – and roars that are heard five miles away. 

Juveniles have a few light patches that go away with age, and an adult lion has a yellow-gold coat. 

These lions can live in sub-Saharan Africa, preferring scrubs, grasslands, or open woodlands, where they can hunt more effectively.

Together with the puma, African lions are the only wild cat species that live in groups. In these groups, the females are the main hunters and leaders.

They frequently cooperate to prey on wildebeests, zebras, buffalos, giraffes, and impalas.

The IUCN classifies the African lion as Vulnerable because they are threatened with habitat loss, persecution by farmers, and poaching.

Did you know? The collective noun of lions is pride. So a group of lions would be called a pride of lions.

Leopard (Panthera pardus)

Leopard walking in forest
  • Lifespan: up to 12 to 15 years
  • Tail length: 23 to 39 inches
  • Total length: 2 ft 11 in to 6 ft 5 inches
  • Height: 22 to 27.6 inches
  • Weight: 46 to 198 pounds
  • Top speed: 58 mph

When discussing wild cats in Africa, the leopard can’t possibly be left out.

Related to the lion, tiger, and jaguar, this big cat’s size and markings vary widely. 

Typically, African leopards are white below and yellowish above. Dark markings typically cover a large portion of the body, which are called rosettes.

These rosettes lack the central spot that makes up the jaguar’s coat.

They prey primarily on elands, impalas, duikers, warthogs, larges rodents, and monkeys.

In addition, leopards are considered Vulnerable species by the IUCN.

Did you know? The majestic leopards have an incredible sense of hearing. They can hear five times more sounds than a human.

Did you enjoy reading about these fantastic wild cats of Africa? Then share it with your friends!