Utah’s Hogle Zoo has a furry new resident: Gaia, a tiny, adorable but ferocious black-footed cat native to Africa. Don’t fall for those innocent eyes!
Gaia, who arrived at Hogle Zoo from Glen Rose, Texas in October 2023, was born in May 2023 and is a little over 8 months old. She weighs approximately 2.64 pounds, said Hogle Zoo.
Gaia was quarantined upon arrival, like all other new animals, so they can undergo a full health check and adjust after travel, said the zoo, before being introduced to the public. Gaia was brought in front of the public in late December, according to a Facebook post by the zoo on Dec. 28.
“She’s a pretty feisty cat,” said Bob Cisneros, Associate Director of Animal Care in a statement, adding that she’s a “mighty warrior”.
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Settling in at her new home
Cisneros said the Gaia is settling in at night when nobody’s around.
“When we all come in, she’s hunkered down in her little cave,” said Cisneros.
Gaia is currently following a very “specific diet” consisting of ground bone, skeletal muscle and organs, said Hogle Zoo, “along with the occasional mouse that’s already been humanely euthanized through the zoo’s distributors”.
About Gaia, a black-footed cat
Born at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas Gaia is one of four black-footed kittens born in her litter. Black-footed cats are the smallest species of wild cat in Africa and can be found in the arid eastern parts of Namibia, Central and Southern Botswana, and South Africa, according to Hogle Zoo. They get their name from their black or dark brown soles or pads. The felines are also referred to as “ant-hill tigers” in the Afrikaans language.
With a 60% hunting success rate, black-foot cats are considered to be one of the deadliest wild cats to exist, according to the Hogle Zoo, compared to big cats, who have approximately 20% hunting success rate. Black-foot cats kill 8 to 14 meals per night in their natural habitat and can eat 3,000 rodents a year.
“These guys are voracious hunters,” said Cisneros about black-footed cats. “They have a reputation for being a very fierce cat, pound for pound.”
Another fun fact about them is that despite their small statures, they can jump up to five feet in the air and 6½ feet in distance, according to Hogle Zoo.
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Breeding with Ryder
Gaia was brought to the zoo on the recommendation of the Black-footed Consortium for breeding purposes, though she is yet to meet her future mating partner. Hogle Zoo said that once Gaia reaches sexual maturity, she will be introduced to the zoo’s 3-year-old male Ryder, who lives in the next-door enclosure.
“Gaia is most distantly related [to Ryder], so she makes the perfect match,” said Cisneros.
The consortium hopes that a successful breeding between the two cats would significantly add to the program which currently has only 29 black-footed cats in the entire consortium.
Black-footed cats are classified as vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Given their nocturnal nature and shy personality, it is hard for wildlife researchers to gauge how many exist in the wild. However, a 2016 assessment estimated that about 9,700 were living in the wild in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, said Hogle Zoo.
Saman Shafiq is a trending news reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at [email protected] and follow her on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter @saman_shafiq7.