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Hello, Kitty! New Arrival Welcomes You to Family Free Day at the Zoo

Saturday is admission-free and an opportunity to see one of the rarest wild cats in the world.

Most of us have seen a cat with black feet.

But a black-footed cat?

Josie, who is, by nature, a black-footed cat, will not tell you what the difference is. But Patch and the will.

Josie is the poster animal for Family Free Day at the Zoo on Saturday. She's brand new to the Zoo and a little shy, but she can be found at the Small Animal House, and it won't cost you a scent to seek her.

On Family Free Days each year, the Zoo will forgo any admission fee to coax you into its lair, filled with creatures from every corner of the world.

Be forewarned: Regular parking rates still apply. Beware: Concessions, special shows and rentals still lurk at usual cost. Your cotton candy is not covered.

The weather for April's annual freebie at the Zoo is usually somewhere between uncomfortable and abysmal for humans, but this year the forecast is for more of the warm.

It is likely to rain, though – warm but wet is the prediction, so dress, accessorize and plan accordingly. The animals, frankly, don't much care.

The tale of the cat

So, we've teased you: Who is Josie, and what is a black-footed cat?

Felis nigripes is the smallest of African wild cats. And there's a good chance that Josie's ancestors are also remote ancestors of your Fluffy and Pooks, whatever breed they may claim to be.

In fact, as you can see from the lead photo, Josie doesn't look a lot different from Muffin, with big winsome eyes, stunning stripes and spots, and ultra-alert ears.

But Josie's kin live in some of the harshest environments in sub-tropical southwest Africa, from the verge of the Kalahari to the expanses of the Karoo.

And Josie's kin have some interesting habits. For one, they like to find a rodent-filled tract of savanna and take up residence inside the rock-hard walls of a hollowed-out termite mound or in the empty burrow of an aardvark or springhare.

From that headquarters, Felis nigripes will hunt mostly at night – although Josie will probably get used to prime cuts during the day.

According to the Black-footed Cat Working Group:

They are capable of killing prey larger than itself, can catch birds in flight and jump up to 2 m distance and 1.4 m high.

The black-footed cat’s appetite is extraordinary. They are very successful hunters catching on average one vertebrate prey animal every 50 minutes. During the course of one night they eat prey amounting to one fifth of their own body mass.

This secretive and retiring cat is the rarest of the African felids.... The total effective population size is less than 10,000 mature breeding individuals. Due to loss of its prey base through habitat degradation by overgrazing, indirect persecution by poisoning and predator control the population is declining.

Also, her researchers say, as of 2011 only 23 zoos and research centers worldwide kept black-footed cats.

You can meet Josie and learn about Africa's smallest and rarest wild cat Saturday at Family Free at the Zoo, when everybody who lives outside gets in for nothing and, we hope, everybody who lives inside stays inside.

Because Josie has some big, bad cousins.

Bren April 13, 2012 at 11:37 PM
This animal could be a good companion for my housecat, as it appears to have a smaller appetite and might be less destructive. ; )
Jim Price April 14, 2012 at 12:13 AM
HA! I soooo hear you, Bren. I've got a cat that turned out to be an escape artist and got shot ($300 surgery), destroyed a glass stove top ($600), has bad teeth ($300 surgery to remove infected fang) and now MUST have special dental diet food ($5 a pound, or about the cost of sirloin). And he's only 3 years old. I bet Josie the black-footed would be much lower maintenance. (Thanks for the funny)

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