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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Family: Felidae (cats)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Ferae > Carnivora

Species indigenous to southern Africa

Subfamily: Acinonychinae


Acinonyx jubatus (Cheetah)

Hunts down prey (mainly antelope) by chasing it at high speed over short distances. Its running speed is such that it holds the record as the fastest land mammal, being able to run in excess of 70 km/h. Females hold territories and do all the work in rearing the young. Males are nomadic.

[photo Callie de Wet ]

Subfamily: Pantherinae


Panthera pardus (Leopard)

One of the “Big Five” in Africa, leopards are a highly popular tourist attraction in national parks and reserves, which makes them highly prized and an important source of income. Males are solitary and females rear the cubs. Prey is varied, ranging from invertebrates through to medium-sized antelope. Leopards are found in the mountains of the Western Cape but are rarely seen.


Panthera leo (Lion)

One of Africa’s “Big Five”. The largest of the African cats and the most social member of the cat family living in prides of 3-30 individuals.  Lionesses give birth to their cubs under cover away from the pride and will only return to the pride when the cubs are 6-8 weeks old. Male lions will often kill any existing cubs in the pride after they successfully depose the dominant male or male group. This results in the females being able to produce this new male's cubs sooner.

Subfamily: Felinae


Caracal caracal (Caracal) 

Caracals occur from Africa through to India and occupy a wide range of habitats. They are solitary in habit except when mating or the mother is accompanied by young. Prey includes mammals up to the size of bushbuck, as well as birds and reptiles. They are considered vermin by farmers because they attack livestock.


Felis silvestris (African wild cat)

The African wild cat is one of five subspecies of Felis silvestris, which is a species with a wide distribution through Africa, Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia. The species also includes the Domestic cat, which genetic evidence suggests was domesticated in the Middle East. African wild cat and domestic cats often interbreed in the proximity of human habitations and this is one of the main threats to the survival of the wild subspecies in its pure form.


Felis nigripes (Black-footed cat)


Leptailurus serval (Serval)