Africa is a continent famous for its wildlife and predominantly for the iconic wild cats that draw millions of tourists from around the world, hoping to catch a glimpse of them in the wild.

Unbeknownst to most, there are more than just lions, leopards and cheetahs when it comes to cats. There are actually 7 other species of African cats – all of which are far smaller and seen far less frequently, but equally as beautiful and fascinating!

Here are the 10 species of African cats:



The African Lion is the world’s second largest cat species, after the tiger – and the largest in Africa. They are a major attraction for tourists and one of the most iconic symbols of the continent.

The undisputed king of the savannah, male lions stand 1.2m (4 ft) tall at the shoulder and can weigh over 200 kilograms (450lbs). These iconic cats are characterised by their majestic manes, highlighted with hues of red, brown and black with some males boasting almost-completely black manes.

The 10 species of African cats

Female lions – or lionesses – are slightly smaller in stature, weighing around 130 kilograms (290bs) and don’t grow any form of mane. Unlike African cats, lions are extremely social and are always found in family groups called ‘prides’. The average pride of lions ranges from three to thirty individuals.

Lions are opportunistic predators, which means they will hunt and eat almost anything when the opportunity arises, however their diet primarily consists of large mammals like Zebra, Wildebeest and Buffalo and sometimes even Giraffe. They are ambush hunters, who use their tawny-brown skin colour to blend in with their surroundings.

Trophy hunting, poaching and habitat-loss are the primary contributing factors to the decline in wild lion populations in Africa, and they are currently classified as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List.


Arguably the most beautiful of the African cat species, the leopard is the most elusive member of the Big 5 and one of the most highly sought after sightings on the continent. Nocturnal by nature, leopards are solitary cats which are usually seen alone except while mating or mother’s with cubs.

The leopard’s intricate pattern is made up of black spots arranged in rosettes, contrasted against a golden-yellow coat. White spots on the tips of their tails and the backs of their ears allow mothers to stand out to their cubs in the long grass.

They are heavy-bodied and powerful cats, able to pull prey heavier than themselves several metres up a tree to avoid scavengers like lions and hyena.

The 10 species of African cats

They are exceptional hunters thanks to their variety of skills; the ability to run at speeds of over 56 kilometres (35 miles) and jump over 3 meters (10ft) into the air means they are highly successful predators. They are also excellent swimmers and have been seen wading into shallow pools to hunt catfish. Their diet is varied and prey items include; wildebeest, birds, baboons and even fish, but most times the unfortunate victims are impala.

Game fences are no good for keeping leopards in and they move freely between wildlife reserves and surrounding areas. They are one of the only big game species that can still be found outside of national parks and game reserves.

Habitat-loss for agricultural use means that wild leopards have less space and often face conflict with farmers and rural communities. They are currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.


The smallest of Africa’s big cats, the Cheetah is a slender and long-legged species that holds the title for the fastest land mammal on earth. These speedy felines can reach top speeds of almost 120km/h at full sprint.

Cheetah are often mistaken for leopards in the wild due to their black-spotted coat, however a cheetah’s spots are smaller and solid, different to the rosettes found on leopards – with a closer look the differences are hard to miss.

The 10 species of African cats

Generally cheetahs are a solitary species, but can at times be found in small family groups. This is usually a mother and her cubs or a group of brothers. They spend most of their time frequenting savannah woodland areas and open grasslands, where their preferred prey species also live and feed. The ideal prey for cheetah are small antelope like duiker and springbok, but on occasion family groups will bring down a larger animal such as a wildebeest.

Although they’re equipped with speed unmatched by any other species, cheetahs cannot run at full sprint for longer than a few hundred metres due to the risk of overheating and so they also incorporate elements of stalking into their hunting tactics.

Cheetah are currently listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN red list and face a variety of threats including habitat-loss and human conflict.



The Caracal, one of the medium sized cat species of Africa, is extremely elusive and not often seen in the wild. Known as the ‘rooikat’ or red cat in Afrikaans (a native language of southern Africa) the caracal is found in savannah and woodland areas of sub-Saharan Africa, and sightings are fairly regular in Kruger National Park and the Masai Mara. The caracal can also be found in semi-desert regions throughout the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

The largest of Africa’s ‘small’ cat species, the caracal is characterised by a short, tawny red coat with long tufts of black hair on the tips of their ears. The name ‘Caracal’ is actually derived from a Turkish word meaning ‘black ear’. Adult males grow to around 80 centimetres (2.5ft) in length with a shoulder height of between 40 and 50 centimetres.

They are extraordinary hunters with incredible agility, able to climb trees and leap over 3 metres (10 ft) in the air to catch birds in mid-flight. They have also been known to take down small antelope, and will do so when the perfect opportunity arises. However their diet primarily consists of birds, rodents and small mammals.

Caracals are primarily nocturnal which makes them difficult to spot in the bush. Exact numbers in the wild are unknown and caracals are classified as ‘least concern’ on the IUCN Red List, although there are certain regions throughout its natural range where the species is considered to be endangered.


Slightly taller and more slender than their ‘red’ cousins, the Serval is graceful cat found in the open grasslands of southern Africa. There are eighteen known subspecies, with a small population still remaining in Morocco.

Thanks to their intricate black-spotted coat, servals are often mistaken for cheetah at first glance, despite being vastly smaller. In comparison to the big cats, servals are considered as a medium-sized cat, with an average shoulder height of 60 centimetres (2ft) and a weighing around 18kg (39lbs).

The 10 species of African cats

The serval’s appearance is characterised by a small head with oversized ears and what are proportionately, the longest legs of any cat species. Their large ears mean they have an exceptional hearing ability, allowing them to point out the tiniest of rustles made by rodents in long grass. They then use their long legs to pounce on their unsuspecting prey from heights of over 2 meters (6.7ft).

The exact size of the total serval population is unknown, but their numbers are believed to be stable, and the IUCN Red List classifies them as being of ‘least concern’.