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Stamp programme 2011
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The beauty and mystery of African wild cats
Text by Louise van Niekerk
Commemorative Envelope (First Day Cover - FDC) 8.13
Small African Wild Cats
There is something mysterious and elusive about cats, which have inspired many writers, poets and even great thinkers for centuries. Africa’s wealth of wildlife includes a number of beautiful small wild cats. Many of them are rarely observed, as they are nocturnal, shy and solitary. However, artist, Annemarie Wessels has captured their beauty and mystery skilfully on a set of five Africa airmail rate stamps.
Cat lovers and thematic collectors of cats on stamps, will be delighted to know that a set of five stamps depicting small African wild cats is due for release on 4 February 2011.
The post office on the canceller is Hluhluwe in KwaZulu-Natal where the Emdoneni Lodge Animal Care & Rehab Centre is situated. The aim of this rehabilitation centre is to care for wild Cheetahs, Serval cats, African wildcats and Caracal (Lynx), which have been orphaned or injured in the wild. Breeding also takes place and where possible the offspring are released into their natural habitat.
African wildcat (Felis silvestris)
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.
In Afrikaans it is called “vaalboskat”, which means grey bush cat.
Although African wildcats are listed as common and widespread in Africa, their genetic integrity is threatened by interbreeding with domestic cats. It is quite rare to come across a pure bred African wildcat.
African wildcats diverged from the other subspecies about 131 000 years ago. Remains of domesticated cats have been included in human burials as far back as 9 500 years ago in Cyprus.
Serval (Leptailarus serval)
The name Serval is derived from a Portuguese word meaning “deer-like wolf.” In Africa, it is commonly referred to as a bush cat, and in Afrikaans it is known as a “tierboskat”, which means tiger bush cat.
The serval is a slender cat with unusually long legs for its body size, which stands at about 500 mm at the shoulders. The back, flanks and tail are covered with a golden brown coat, with black stripes down the spine and black spots on the flanks and tail. It has a small but long head and large rounded ears marked with alternating black and white stripes on the rear.
The serval occurs only in Africa, where its preferred habitat is moist, tall grasslands, often associated with wetlands. In South Africa, the serval is found in parts of the Northern Province, Mpumalanga, the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg and in Lesotho. It is classified as rare in the South African Red Data Book.
Caracal (Felis caracal)
The caracal is the largest of the small cats and is often categorised as a medium-sized cat. Moving with grace and a sense of confident power, the caracal is considered to be one of the most beautiful cats in the world. One of the few cat species that do not have any spots or stripes on its coat, the caracal has reddish-brown coat and distinctive dark tufts on its large, pointed ears.
The name caracal comes from the Turkish word “karakulak” meaning “black eared”. The Swahili name for caracal is “Simbamangu”, which means secretive lion or cat. This is because they are mainly nocturnal, secretive and solitary and are rarely seen.
The caracal occurs throughout Africa and parts of South East Asia. It is widespread in South Africa where it prefers open areas in woodland savannahs, as well as rocky, hilly areas.
The caracal is classified as an endangered species. They are sometimes killed by farmers, since they are a threat to livestock. In some areas of their range they are killed for their skin and meat.
Black-footed cat (Felis nigripes)
The black-footed cat, weighing a maximum of only 2.2 kg, is the second smallest cat species in the world and Africa’s smallest wildcat species.
Its name is derived from the black soles of its feet. In Afrikaans it is called a “miershooptier”, which means anthill tiger, as it often makes its den in abandoned termite mounds.
Also called the small spotted cat, its sleek, tawny fur is marked with bold, black spots and black rings around the legs. At night, its large eyes reflect light with an intense blue sheen. Its head is broad with large, prominent ears.
The black-footed cat is endemic to Southern Africa and is found only in the arid parts of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Southern Angola.
It obtains all its moisture from its food requiring no drinking water at all.
African Golden Cat (Profelis aurata)
The golden cat gets its name from its golden reddish coat. However, these cats are found in two different colours varying from reddish to grey and were once thought to be two separate species.
Their coats are with or without spots and the undersides pale to white often with blotches. They are solidly built with short tails. Their small, rounded faces have few markings and the ears are mainly black.
The African golden cat occurs in the tropical forests of equatorial Africa from Senegal, Sierra Leone and Liberia in the west, through the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a minimal distribution in Uganda and Kenya in the east. Because they are nocturnal and extremely shy, very few have been raised in captivity making them difficult to research
The African golden cat frequently occupies the same territories as the leopard; hence they have been called “the leopard’s brother”.