Deadliest Cat on Earth
The deadliest cat on Earth isn't a shaggy-maned lion, a sleek leopard
or a stealthy tiger. It's a wee cat that you've probably never heard
of: Africa's smallest feline, the black-footed cat.
Native to the grasslands of southern Africa, the black-footed cat has
an endearingly round face and a light brown, black-spotted body that
is small even compared to domestic cats. The wild feline measures only
14 to 20 inches (36 to 52 centimeters) long, stands about 8 inches (20
cm) tall and weighs about 2 to 6 lbs. (1 to 3 kilograms), according to
the International Society for Endangered Cats (black-footed cats are
listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation
Admittedly, those measurements don't sound very impressive when compared
to the sizable big cats that are among the world's most fearsome predators.
But despite its small size, the black-footed cat hunts and brings down
more prey in a single night than a leopard does in six months, according
to the PBS Nature miniseries "Super Cats."
The second episode in the miniseries aired on PBS last night (Oct. 31).
It featured an unprecedented glimpse of the black-footed cat, along with
views of other fascinating and elusive wild felines, such as a pregnant
jaguar in Costa Rica, a rare swamp tiger in India and a family of fishing
cats — the only semiaquatic cats — in the wetlands of Asia.
For the latest episode, titled "Cats in Every Corner," filmmakers
captured never-before-seen views of black-footed cats by collaborating
with researcher Alexander Sliwa, a curator at the Cologne Zoo in Germany
who has studied the black-footed cat since the 1990s. Through Sliwa,
the series' makers gained access to several small cats that had already
been fitted with radio collars at a study site in South Africa, "Super
Cats" producer Gavin Boyland told Live Science.
A real killer
Filming the tiny cats proved unusually challenging, Boyland said. Because
the black-footed cats are so small, they're harder to track through tall
grasses than big cats are. Since the little cats hunt mostly at night,
the production crew needed to use a special light-sensitive camera to
detect the felines at all, recording footage of hunting behavior that
had never been captured before, Boyland explained.
And when it comes to hunting, as the filmmakers saw, the black-footed
cat is extraordinarily efficient — "a real powerhouse," said
Luke Hunter, Chief Conservation Officer at Panthera, a global wildcat-conservation
Hunter, who served as a scientific consultant for "Super Cats," explained
that small predators like the black-footed cat have accelerated metabolisms,
which they need to keep fueled all the time, "so they're constantly
hunting," he said.
Black-footed cats use three very different techniques to nab their prey.
One method is known as "fast hunting," in which the cats bound
quickly and "almost randomly" through the tall grass, flushing
out small prey such as birds or rodents, Hunter said. Another of their
methods takes them on a slower course through their habitat, with the
cats weaving quietly and carefully to sneak up on potential prey.
Finally, they use a sit-and-wait approach near rodents' burrows, a technique
called still hunting, Hunter said.
They wait for up to 2 hours, [staying] absolutely immobile, just silently
waiting at the burrow for a rodent to appear. And then they nab it," Hunter
told Live Science.
In one night, a black-footed cat kills between 10 and 14 rodents or small
birds, averaging a kill about every 50 minutes, according to Hunter.
With a 60 percent success rate, black-footed cats are about three times
as successful as lions, which average a successful kill about 20 to 25
percent of the time, Hunter said.
" If you're a gazelle or a wildebeest, a black-footed cat isn't at all deadly.
But those success rates make them the deadliest little cat on Earth," he
Black-footed cats represent but one species in a highly diverse feline
family, many of which are difficult to observe in the wild and are not
well-understood. And though most of the felines that appear in "Super
Cats" face serious threats of habitat loss and destruction from
human activity, conservation efforts can yet preserve vulnerable populations,
" I believe it's mostly not doom and gloom. But if we don't actively conserve
these species, if we don't work to reduce those threats, then we could lose some
of these animals," he added.
Episode 2 of "Super Cats" is available to stream beginning
November 1st. You can also watch Episode 1 — "Extreme Lives" — and
learn more about the miniseries on the PBS
Nature website and on PBS apps.
Episode 3, "Science and Secrets," premieres Wednesday, Nov.
7, at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).