Safaris & stories
Africa Geographic
Wildlife . People . Travel
Photographer of the Year 2021
The African wildcat kitten safely tucked away under a pile of logs
The African wildcat kitten safely tucked away under a pile of logs © Simon Espley

It was the fierce hissing and spitting that alerted me to the tiny kitten hidden under a pile of dead branches on our plot in Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate, bordering the Greater Kruger National Park. At first I thought that the noise was a Mozambique spitting cobra, because we have encountered a few of those in our garden.

I ushered our curious Jack Russell terrier from the scene, and approached again with caution. Again, the fierce hissing and spitting, accompanied by a tiny but resounding ‘thump’. Then I saw the fierce eyes staring at me from underneath the dead branches. The tiny fluffball with a mean right jab (the ‘thump’ that I heard) was a few inches from my foot, safe under a pile of dead branches.

This explained why the ADULT African wildcat a short distance away from me did not hurry off when I approached, after I was alerted to its presence by alarm-calling birds. I had seen this individual wildcat before near our home, and usually it would vaporise into the surrounding bushveld soon after seeing me. Her having a kitten would also explain the slightly ‘fuller’ look this time – she is lactating.

The cautious African wildcat watches me as I inadvertently approach her hidden kitten
The cautious African wildcat watches me as I inadvertently approach her hidden kitten © Simon Espley

Not wanting to disturb whatever was going on, I snapped a quick vid and a few pics on my mobile phone and retreated to our veranda about 50m away, to observe from afar. Soon after, I watched mom and kitten‘ leopard-crawl’ away and disappear into a dense copse.

IMPORTANT note about African wildcats and inbreeding with domestic cats:

Having seen many African wildcats in several locations throughout Africa, I was interested in the observed subtle variations in coat shade and striping. Turns out that coat shades vary geographically, BUT also: many African wildcats are inbred with our domestic variety, at least to some extent. I would imagine that those found in this area probably have genetic maladies, bearing in mind the local domesticated cat populations. And so I make no claim as to the genetic purity of this cat and her kitten.

More information about African wildcats here: A Closer Look at the African Wildcat.

The kitten warns me off after I stumbed upon it, by hissing and spitting
The kitten spits its warning, after I stumbled upon it while watching the mother © Simon Espley

Photographer of the Year 2021
Simon Espley

I am a proud African and honoured to be CEO of Africa Geographic. My travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, elusive birds and real people with interesting stories. I live in Hoedspruit, next to the Kruger National Park, with my wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells. When not travelling or working I am usually on my mountain bike somewhere out there. I qualified as a chartered accountant but found my calling sharing Africa's incredibleness with you. My motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". Connect with me on LinkedIn