SALT LAKE CITY (KTVX/NEXSTAR) – Gaia, a small cat from a species native to Africa, is the newest resident of the Small Animal Building at Utah’s Hogle Zoo. And for the sake of all the other “small animals” in that building, let’s hope Gaia never gets loose from her enclosure.
The species that Gaia belongs to — the black-footed cat — is among the smallest (and arguably the cutest) cat species on the planet. But it’s also considered the deadliest, being an extremely cunning species with an incredibly successful hunting rate.
“We kind of joke that they’re very adorable, but they are wild animals,” Rachael Eames, a representative for the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, told Nexstar.
The black-footed cat is estimated to have a successful kill rate of 60%, according to researchers and experts cited in the 2018 PBS miniseries “Super Cats” — and she’s not all that picky about her diet, either. She’ll eat rodents, insects, and even pluck small birds out of the air. Black-footed cats have also been known to kill adult Cape hares, despite being slightly smaller and much slower when running, Canada’s International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) noted.
“She finds almost anything that moves is a potential meal,” a 2018 PBS documentary explained of the species.
Black-footed cats are so successful at hunting, in part, because of their small size (an adult stands about 8 inches tall, and weighs between two and five pounds) and their sneaky hunting methods.
“They wait for up to 2 hours, absolutely immobile, just silently waiting,” explained Luke Hunter, an expert in endangered carnivores and a founding member of the wildcat-conservation organization Panthera, in a Nov. 2021 interview with LiveScience.
The cats will also snake silently through tall grasses to stalk prey. But other times, they’ll run wildly through the grasses — largely unseen — to flush out any critters, according to the ISEC.
Gaia, the black-footed cat at SLC’s Hogle Zoo, will be fed by staffers, though she’ll still be given the chance to practice her “natural behaviors” with the facility’s animal-care staff, Eames told Nexstar.
She’s already “showing a lot of great confidence,” the zoo rep said.
Gaia’s arrival at the zoo, meanwhile, is part of a larger conservation effort for her species, as black-footed cats are currently listed as “vulnerable” due to the loss of their natural habitat and other threats from larger predators. Conservation groups like the Black-Footed Cat Consortium, where Gaia came from, are seeking to put the cats into breeding programs across the country.
Eames said there are around 30 other black-footed cats currently in captivity at AZA-accredited (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) facilities — and another, a male named Ryder, even resides at Hogle.
In time, the goal is for Gaia to “get acquainted” with Ryder once she reaches maturity, which could go a long way toward the conservation of her species, the zoo wrote on Instagram.
“The goal is to have a successful breeding program,” Eames told Nexstar.
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