by Tamlin Wightman
on August 19, 2011
5 min read

You’ve heard of the big cats of Africa and probably even seen them – lion, cheetah, leopard… But do you know about the lesser-known, smaller wild cats of Africa? Caracal, serval, the African wild cat, the black footed cat and the African golden cat?

There is plenty more to look out for in the African bush! Keep your eyes peeled for these creatures below too:


The caracal isa a beautiful and rare Africa wild cat

About: The caracal is an elegant cat with short reddish-brown fur on the back and sides. The chin and throat and underside are white. The caracal has distinctive long black ears with white at the ear base, and long tufts of black fur at the tips. Caracals are found in woodland, savannah, scrub forests. Caracals use abandoned burrows, rock crevices or dense vegetation for their dens. Caracals are carnivorous and prey on birds, rodents, and small antelopes. They stalk their prey before pouncing upon it. Caracals sometimes store remains of prey in tree forks or dense shrubs for later feeding.

Found: Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and more.

Spot caracal in Melton Manor Kwandwe

These photographs were taken by David Ryan at Kwandwe Melton Manor, in the Kwandwe Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape. The Reserve is a conservation triumph with 22 000 hectares of former farmland that has been restored and restocked with wildlife – including the Big Five. It’s home to lion, black and white rhino, buffalo, elephant and cheetah, and threatened species such as the Knysna woodpecker, Cape grysbok, black wildebeest, crowned eagle and black-footed cat. To book a trip to the reserve or to find out more, contact us.


Serval is one of the rarer cats that can be spotted in the African bush

About: The serval is a large cat with reddish-brown fur with dark spots that sometimes merge into stripes down the back. The legs are very long relative to body size and help them see over the long savanna grass. The head is proportionately small compared with the body and legs. The ears are very long and rounded with white stripes on the back. Servals are found in open grasslands, wooded savanna, grassed upland and rainforest fringes. They are carnivores and eat small mammals such as hares, rats and ground squirrels, as well as birds and frogs. They catch their prey by leaping (up to ten feet high) and pouncing with both front paws and often play with their prey before eating it.

Found: Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

In the higher altitudes of Kenya, Aberdare Mountains in the Aberdare National Park, you might be lucky enough to spot a melanistic serval – a genetic anomaly that makes the serval’s coat black. Read more about genetic anomalies here! For more on accommodation in the park, click here.

This serval was photographed by Craig Harding at Lion Sands Private Game Reserve, an award-winning reserve situated in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Keen to visit? Contact us.

African Wild Cat

The African wild cat is one of the lesser-known African cats

About: The African wild cat is usually grey brown with a pattern of black stripes over the body. The fur is fairly short and soft; the tail bushy. They are similar in appearance and colour to a tabby domestic cat. African wild cats vary from yellowish brown to gray to brown, with pattern of stripes and spots and are found in a range of habitats, but not in rainforest or open desert. Wild cats feed on small mammals, such as mice, rats, rabbits, birds, reptiles, amphibians, eggs and large insects. They can capture prey that are almost as large as themselves.

Found: Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

An African wild cat has even taken up residence at the Kapama Buffalo Lodge, in the Kapama Private Game Reserve, which occupies a vast area between the northern Drakensberg mountains and the Greater Kruger National Park.

Image from Wikipedia.

Black Footed Cat

Look out for this tiny cat in the wild of Africa

About: The black footed cat is one of the smallest species of wild cats and similar in shape to the domestic cat. The fur is brownish with a pattern of round black or dark brown spots. It has a large head relative to the body. It has two black stripes across each cheek with pale area between the stripes. There are two black stripes on the forelegs, and up to five on the back legs. 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. The cat is found in the dry parts of South Africa. Feeds on small prey such as rodents, birds, spiders, insects. They catch their prey by stalking and pouncing on it. They sometimes scavenge on larger dead mammals. The conservation status in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals for this cat is, sadly, “vulnerable”.

Found: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa.

The black footed cat is the smallest African cat.

Images from Wikipedia.

African Golden Cat

The African Golden Cat can be found in the hills of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

About: The African golden cat is a medium-sized wild cat found in the rainforests of West and Central Africa. It is a close relative of both the caracal and the serval. It prefers dense, moist forest with heavy undergrowth, and is often found close to rivers. Due to its extremely reclusive habits, little is known about its behavior. They are solitary animals, and normally crepuscular or nocturnal, although they have also been observed hunting during the day, depending on the availability of local prey. The African Golden Cat is able to climb, but hunts primarily on the ground. It mainly feeds on rodents, but also includes birds, small monkeys, duikers, giant forest hogs and small antelope in its diet. These cats have also been known to take domestic poultry and livestock.

Found: The cat is found from Senegal in the west to Kenya in the east, and ranges as far north as the Central African Republic and as far south as northern Angola. Look out for them in Uganda‘s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Image from

Enjoyed this post? Find out more about the other animals of Africa in our blog – including the Big 5, the Marine 5, and Africa’s bigger cats such as the leopard, the lion and the cheetah. For more information on how to book a trip to this magnificent continent to spot these animals on your own safari, contact us!