African Wildcat

Felis silvestris

Body Length(cm) :470-690

Weight (kg) : 3-7 average

Litter Size : 2-6 average

Life Span : 15 years

Status : Least Concern

F.s.foxi - West Africa

F.s.cafra - Southern Africa

F.s.griselda - Central Africa

F.s.lybica - Saharan Desert

F.s.mellandi - Central Africa

F.s.ocreata - E Central Africa

F.s.pyrrhus - W Central Africa

F.s.sarda - N.W Africa

F.s.ugandae - E. Africa

F.s.brockmani - E. Africa


  • European Wildcat

  • A Matter of Breeding



    As a species, the wildcat is divided into many regional subspecies and their number and classification varies depending on which school of thought is followed. The range of the species as a whole extends across most of the ‘Old World’. From parts of North West Europe, through the Middle East, parts of Asia and generally (excluding the true dessert areas) throughout The African continent. 

    Broadly speaking, the species can be split into three main groups - F. silvestris.silvestris the European wildcat (Silvestris Group) found mainly in forested areas of Europe - F. silvestris.lybica the African wildcat (Lybica Group), distributed in various coloured forms in most of Africa apart from the Sahara and equatorial rainforest areas and F.silvestris.ornata the Indian Desert or Steppe wildcat (Ornata Group) found in various regions of western Asia through to parts of India and Southern Asia. 

    Lybica Group

    There is some evidence to suggest that the African Wildcat emerged as a distinct sub-species from the European wildcat as little as 20,000 years ago and spread south through most of the African continent. Today the African wildcat is still to be found in most parts of the continent with the exclusion of the true desert areas around the Sahara and the central African rain forests belt. The species also extends up to the Arabian Peninsula, where it can be found in most coastal regions away from the dessert heartland.

    Because of the diversity of habitat in which the African wildcat is found there is a wide range of coat coloration, varying from a light sand colour in the arid semi-desert and grassland areas to a darker grey/brown in the more forested locations. Markings also vary, from tabby stripes to faint spots and are again broadly associated with habitat types. Generally the African species of wildcat are of slighter build compared to the European wildcat, have a rather more pointed tail and show a characteristic reddish tint to the fur behind the ears.

    Possibly due to this diversity of habitat and coloration/markings the African wildcat has been divided into sub-species, ranging from eleven to seventeen in number depending on the classification system - however many sub-species are so similar that the whole matter of classification is open to debate. One sub-species, that of F.silvestris lybica, which gives its name to the whole African wildcat group (Lybica Group) is often thought of as being the closest relative of the domestic cat (F.silvestris catus). Found throughout many parts of North Africa, lybica is often associated with habitats close to human habitation although in general the African wildcat is a solitary animal.

    Hunting is usually carried out at night, although crepuscular activity is common in some habitats away from close proximity to human activity. Throughout the range rodent species form the main part of the African wildcat’s diet and include mice, rats and gerbils - other prey species include scrub hare and rock rabbits, insects, birds and small reptiles.

    As with the European wildcat, the greatest threat to African species is that of hybridisation with the large populations of feral and domestic cats found throughout the range of the African wildcat. Conservationists are suggesting possible solutions to the problem including captive breeding programs to maintain a known base of pure bred animals for study and possible re-introduction and management of feral populations in areas where the wildcat is at most risk. The wildcat is listed in CITES Appendix 2.

    1997 Andrew Garman