Many tourists flock to Africa to view its infamous predators, most notably its big cats such as lion, leopard and cheetah. However, there are a number of other cat species to be found in the various parks and reserves of Africa which are equally, if not more, interesting than their larger cousins. After all, watching lions sleeping during the day (and they pretty much sleep for the whole day) loses its novelty within 20 minutes…
Here are a few of our other wonderful cat species and where best to see them…
CARACAL – Also known as the lynx or rooikat (red cat), this medium sized cat is incredibly versatile and is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. It has a diverse diet focused mostly on birds, small mammals and reptiles. It is extremely well built, with a notably shorter tail than other felines. This powerful cat often comes into conflict with farmers, as it has been known to kill young livestock and even adult sheep. That said, its secretive and elusive lifestyle has helped it to survive in farming areas. However, it is happiest in protected areas and is commonly seen in the Kalahari region in South Africa. Largely a nocturnal animal, the caracal is best seen on a night drive in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa. A great place to stay is !Xaus lodge which operates on a private concession within the park, or at one of the park camps offering self-catering accommodation and camping – Mata Mata, Nossob and Twee Rivieren.
SERVAL – This beautiful spotted cat is often mistaken for a cheetah at first. However, on closer inspection, one notices its large ears and long legs. The cat uses its enlarged ears to pick up the sounds of mice, insects or small birds moving through the grassland, and with its long elastic legs pounces onto the unsuspecting rodent. The cat is found in open areas and the grasslands of Africa, and is regularly seen in the Serengeti, Masai Mara and the wild Kafue National Park in Zambia.
AFRICAN WILD CAT – The African Wild Cat looks very similar to our domestic tabby cats. Its primary differentiating factor is its red ears. The similarity stems from the fact that African Wild Cats were first domesticated thousands of years ago in Egypt and, as such, the domestic cat descends from this lineage. These cats are common throughout the continent and again are mostly seen at night. The Sabi Sands is one of the best places to view these cats on guided game drive safaris, particularly at Mala Mala Game Reserve, Elephant Plains, Savanna Game Lodge and Nottens Bush Camp.
CIVETS – Civets are thickly built, badger-like cats that frequent the savannah regions of Africa. Interestingly, civets were traditionally in high demand due to an excretion called “civet one”, which was a main ingredient in perfumes last century. The cat is mostly nocturnal and as such is best seen on night drives. A high density of civets exists in South Africa’s iconic Kruger National Park, especially around the southern and central regions. Early-morning and sunset self-drive safaris around the Satara, Skukuza and Lower Sabie camps often result in a glimpse of these creatures in daylight hours. However, the best bet is to go on a guided night drive (booked through the park’s camps), where civets are seen on most evenings. Civets are often seen scavenging around some of the open camps, such as Talamati and Biyamiti in the Kruger, at night.
GENETS – There are two main species of the genet cat seen in Africa: the Greater Spotted Genet and the Lesser Spotted Genet. These busy little creatures are commonly seen foraging for food on night drives through the African savannah. Although they feed mostly on rodents, they will sometimes eat fruit, and have a particular affinity for pineapple! The easiest way to distinguish between a large and small-spotted genet (aside from the spot sizes) is to look for the large spotted genet’s black tip tail- the small spotted genet has a white tip.
SMALL SPOTTED GENET: You are almost guaranteed to see the small spotted genet throughout South Africa’s Lowveld region. This includes places such as Motswari Game Reserve and the Klaserie Game Reserve.
LARGE SPOTTED GENET: The Large spotted genet is more vocal at night and is best seen in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park and in South Africa’s Zululand region. In Kwa-Zulu Natal, this includes the Hluluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, Amakhosi Safari Lodge and Mkuze Falls Game Reserve. It is now also being seen more frequently in the Eastern Cape in places such as the Kariega Game Reserve near Kenton-on-Sea.