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.
Ascari, 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)