One of the world’s deadliest cats now lives in Utah — and she’s adorable

Gaia, an 8-month-old black-footed cat, moved to Utah’s Hogle Zoo to breed with Ryder, the zoo’s black-footed cat bachelor.

(Hogle Zoo) Gaia, an 8-month-old black-footed cat, moved to Utah’s Hogle Zoo to breed with Ryder, the zoo’s black-footed cat bachelor. The felines are considered the deadliest cats in the world.

What’s furry, deadly, but cute all over? One of the newest residents of Utah’s Hogle Zoo — Gaia, an 8-month-old black-footed cat.

She may weigh in at less than 3 pounds, but Gaia isn’t your typical kitten. The cat’s natural habitat are the grasslands and savannas of southern Africa, and the felines are referred to as “ant-hill tigers” in the Afrikaans language, said Bob Cisneros, the zoo’s associate director of animal care.

Black-footed cats are considered the deadliest cats in the world — with a hunting success rate of over 60%, compared to the 25% success rate of their big-cat relatives, Cisneros said. But Gaia wasn’t brought to Utah just for her notoriety.

Her journey to the Beehive State was based on the matchmaking work of scientists across the country. Here, she’ll be paired with Ryder, a 3-year-old black-footed cat who already resides at the Hogle Zoo, with the hopes that they will breed, Cisneros said.

The Hogle Zoo is a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which collects information on births and deaths of animals at zoos worldwide. They also collect information on each animal’s ancestry, and based on statistical analyses, pair male and females that are most distantly related to ensure “genetic variability and sustainability” within species.

“We laugh and joke about it as being endangered-species dating,” Cisneros said.


Meet Gaia, just the newest girl in the Small Animal Building 🐱 Gaia is a black-footed cat, one of the smallest and deadliest cats out there with a very high hunting success rate. Black-footed cats are found in the arid eastern parts of Namibia, central and southern Botswana, and South Africa. #utahshoglezoo #hoglezoo #cats #cat #blackfootedcat #utah #zoo

♬ Just A Girl - No Doubt

At 8 months old, Gaia hasn’t yet met Ryder. He will reside in his own bachelor pad next door to Gaia’s enclosure until she reaches sexual maturity and settles into her new Utah home.

Gaia arrived at the Hogle Zoo in October, but was quarantined for a while when she first moved in — as is customary for all new animals, so they can undergo a full health check and adjust after travel, Cisneros said.

“She’s on loan from the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Texas,” Cisneros added. “They have a very successful breeding program there. We sent somebody out the Fossil Rim a couple of years ago to really study their breeding program and work with the curatorial staff there, so that we can come back and emulate that.”

For now, Gaia will stay in her own personal temperate habitat inside the zoo’s small animal building. She won’t get much larger — according to the South African National Biodiversity Institute, the cats usually weigh about 4.4 lbs and grow to about a 1 foot, 6 inches long.

In the wild, the tenacious cats mostly feed on rodents, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and spiders — with females typically seeking out smaller prey than males to avoid competition, according to the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

Cisneros said Gaia will feed on a specific diet of ground bone, skeletal muscle and organs here — along with the occasional mouse that’s already been humanely euthanized through the zoo’s distributors.

Though Gaia is objectively cute, Cisneros cautioned she’s still a threat.

“Black-footed cats do not make pets. Wild animals do not make good pets,” Cisneros said. “It takes specialized staff to feed and care for an animal like this, knowing that she is a very successful hunter in the wild.”

“They have a reputation for being a very fierce cat,” he continued, “pound for pound.”