African Wildcat (Felis silvestris libyca)
Order: Carnivora, Family: Felidae
Ethiopian: Felis silvestris libyca is found throughout Africa except for the great deserts and the equatorial rainforests. It has the ability to tolerate a broad range of habitats, including coniferous forest, brushland, and rocky outcrops. It prefers areas where nesting birds and small mammals live, often living in the confines of grasslands and waterways, where its prey is most abundant.
I. GEOGRAPHIC RANGE
II. FOOD HABITS
- Ethiopian: Felis silvestris libyca is found throughout Africa except for the great deserts and the equatorial rainforests. It has the ability to tolerate a broad range of habitats, including coniferous forest, brushland, and rocky outcrops. It prefers areas where nesting birds and small mammals live, often living in the confines of grasslands and waterways, where its prey is most abundant.
- F. s. libyca is carnivorous, with vegetable foods playing a minor role in the diet. Prey includes a variety of animals, including birds, especially ground-nesting species, reptiles, amphibians, insects, arachnids, and smaller mammals, such as rabbits and hares. The primary prey of African wildcats are rodents. Because they are capable of catching only small prey, they generally need to hunt regularly, perhaps as often as ten or twenty times a day.
- These felids mature sexually at approximately one year, but males do not usually breed until they are two or three years old. They mate in late February to early March, when females come into estrus. The receptive female rolls on the ground, and this, along with the excretion of pheromones, indicates to the males that she is ready to mate. The males fight for the female, hissing and spitting, clawing and wrestling. The victor mates with the female, mounting her and biting her neck. Gestation is approximately 63-69 days, and the kittens are born in a hollowed tree or on a rocky outcrop. They are altricial when born and open their eyes after 10 days. The litter can be anywhere from one to eight kittens, but usually four are born. The young suckle for about a month, and are then slowly weaned and introduced to solid food. At around three months, they are old enough to accompany their mother on hunting expeditions, where they learn how to hunt for themselves. Because F.libyca is a close ancestor to the domestic cat, with which they are able to interbreed and produce viable offspring. Males do not help with parenting.
- F. s. libyca are nocturnal creatures and, perhaps for that reason, not much is known of their behavior in the wild. It is thought that their small size and their constant search for food predisposes them to be more high-strung than their larger counterparts, which might explain their ferocity. Although numerous biologists and wildlife agents have tried, these cats cannot be tamed, which is a surprise, seeing how closely related they are to house cats. F. s. libyca live solitary lives, except during times of mating, when they come together solely to mate. Each individual guards a territory with an area of roughly 250 acres. Territory is demarcated by scratching trees around the confines. These trees are selected for their strategic placement around the territory, and are repeatedly used. Males and females may occupy overlapping ranges, but female ranges are usually separate. This generalization comes from observing captive cats and their responses to strange individuals. Resident females were willing to share their space with new males, but fighting erupted when other females were introduced. Responses of one cat to another are not simply a matter of size, sex, age, or the conditions under which they meet. Past history and personal relationships also matter, which illustrates the fact that cat sociology is very complex.
VI. ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE FOR HUMANS
- F. s. libyca occupy a variety of habitats and are found throughout the African continent except for the deserts and equatorial rain forests. They tend to be found where there is abundant prey, which would include along watercourses, and along transitional areas between grassy savannas and forested regions. Their density in an area depends largely on prey availability.
- Biomes: tundra, tropical deciduous forest, tropical scrub forest, temperate grassland, chaparral
This species preys on rodents that damage crops.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, these cats were viewed as pests, and, as such, their numbers were reduced dramatically. Today, they are no longer hunted, and are protected over much of their range, but they still pose problems for ground-nesting birds and possibly domesticated birds.
- Status: IUCN — Data Deficient, U.S. ESA — No special status, CITES — Appendix II