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This zoo’s newest resident may be adorable—but she’s also the world’s deadliest cat

This zoo’s newest resident may be adorable—but she’s also the world’s deadliest cat
Posted at 4:30 AM, Jan 09, 2024

Don’t let the adorable, kittenish features of Hogle Zoo’s newest resident fool you. Gaia is a black-footed cat — a species often called “the world’s deadliest cat” because they’re such successful hunters (they catch their prey about 60% of the time). She’s getting a lot of attention these days because of her deceptively sweet appearance, which belies her on-point hunting skills — all packed into an under-five-pound frame.

Utah’s Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City recently obtained eight-month-old Gaia from the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Texas as part of a breeding recommendation recommended by the Black-footed Cat Consortium (this was formerly an Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, which governs the management of species to help ensure their long-term survival).

In case you’re in any doubt that she’s worth all the hype, check out this Facebook post from the zoo. How cute is she?

Gaia is getting national attention and bringing a spotlight to the plight of black-footed cats, which are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. The most recent population assessments indicate there are fewer than 10,000 black-footed cats in the wild.

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These animals are native to the southern part of Africa, where their populations are decreasing as a result of human development, indirect poisoning (as farmers try to eradicate other, similar predators), and the loss of prey. They are also hunted by larger animals.

There are about 30 black-footed cats in accredited zoos. The cats are secretive and small, meaning they are hard to study and haven’t gotten as much attention from conservationists (or zoo visitors) as larger, more charismatic animals. And they suffer from a disease called AA amyloidosis, which can quickly lead to complete kidney failure.

If you want to see a black-footed cat but can’t get to Utah, other zoos that hold them include San Diego Safari Park in California,  The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens in California, Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio, and Birmingham Zoo in Alabama.

And although Gaia and her ilk seem to trigger protective responses from humans once you see them, resist the temptation to treat them like your pets at home.

“Even though they do look like house cats, they are certainly not,” Amanda Collins, vice program leader for AZA’s Black-footed Cat Consortium, told The Washington Post. “They are not very cuddly or affectionate or anything like that toward us, and they are very much wild animals.”

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As for Gaia, she’ll be paired with Ryder, also at Hogle Zoo, although they won’t meet until Gaia is fully grown. Hopefully, once the two are introduced, the zoo’s population will grow.

Here’s Gaia’s intended mate, as posted to the Black-footed Cat Consortium Facebook page:

And if you’re wondering how cute black-footed kittens are, check this video out: Gollum and Arwen were born in 2019 at Fossil Rim.

This zoo’s newest resident may be adorable—but she’s also the world’s deadliest cat originally appeared on, helping make the most out of life.

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