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Three black-​footed cats born at Philadel­phia Zoo

pub­lished 13 June 2014 | mod­i­fied 13 June 2014

Philadel­phia Zoo has wel­comed three black-​footed cat kit­tens to its ani­mal col­lec­tion. Born on April 8th to 9-​year-​old female, Aza, and 8-​year-​old male, Ascari, the kit­tens — two males, Dro­gon and Vis­e­rion, and one female, Rhae­gal — are the first black-​footed cats ever born at Philadel­phia Zoo.

Black-footed cat kitten at philly zooAscari, born at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, and Aza, born at Cen­tral Florida Zoo­log­i­cal Park, came to Philadel­phia Zoo in Octo­ber 2011 on a breed­ing rec­om­men­da­tion from the Species Sur­vival Plan (SSP). Aza has had sev­eral lit­ters born at Kansas City Zoo, but this is her first lit­ter of three. Breed­ing is com­mon for this species through the spring months, and ges­ta­tion typ­i­cally lasts between 60 and 68 days.

Named after drag­ons in the pop­u­lar book, Game of Thrones, the kit­tens have nearly dou­bled in weight from their 1-​month checkup to their 2-​month checkup, which also included vac­ci­na­tions and reap­pli­ca­tion of iden­ti­fy­ing dye marks. The heav­i­est of the three, Dro­gon, now weighs approx­i­mately 747 grams (slightly under 27 ounces). When fully grown they will weigh only 2 kilo­gram still. They are oblig­ate car­ni­vores, eat­ing a diet con­sist­ing exclu­sively of meat.

With its 2 kg as an adult the black-​footed cat (Felis nigripes) is the small­est cat in Africa, and one of the small­est cats in the world — even smaller than domes­tic cats. These small but mighty cats are ter­res­trial and cre­pus­cu­lar, which means they are active at dusk and dawn. In the wild, black-​footed cats have a lifes­pan of 10 to 13 years, and can live up to 15 years in zoos. The species is listed as Vul­ner­a­ble by the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species.

Like most cat species, with the excep­tion of lions and chee­tahs, black-​footed cats pre­fer a soli­tary lifestyle except dur­ing child rear­ing. Moth­ers raise kit­tens with­out the father until they become fully inde­pen­dent. This can occur any­where between three and 12 months.

“It’s an hon­our to be one of only 19 zoos in the coun­try to have black-​footed cats in our col­lec­tion,” says Tammy Schmidt, Cura­tor of Car­ni­vores and Ungu­lates. “So it’s an incred­i­bly excit­ing time as well as a learn­ing expe­ri­ence for us. Each day we are observ­ing and gain­ing a bet­ter under­stand­ing of how this species behaves and matures, and it is a joy to be a part of the process.”

Black-​footed cat kit­tens make their pub­lic debut

(Source: Philadel­phia Zoo YouTube channel)

Dro­gon, Vis­e­rion and Rhae­gal have quickly become a guest favourite, and their pho­tos are dri­ving vis­i­tor traf­fic to the Car­ni­vore King­dom exhibit they share with Aza. Their arrival is par­tic­u­larly mean­ing­ful for their keeper, Ken Pel­letier, “It means a lot for me as a cat keeper,” says Pel­letier, who works with species includ­ing chee­tahs, Canada lynx and the black-​footed cat fam­ily. “This is prob­a­bly the most excit­ing thing for me in my 20 years at Philadel­phia Zoo.”

(Source: Philadel­phia Zoo press release, 12.06.2014)

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