Cape genets, or large-spotted genets (Genetta tigrina), are native to southern Africa. They can be found in the extreme northeastern parts of Namibia, in northern and eastern Botswana, and eastern areas of southern Africa including Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho, and South Africa. Cape genets are absent from arid areas within this range.
Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )
Genets in general are somewhat cat-like in appearance. Cape genets have a mass of 0.84 to 3.2 kg (average 1.82 kg). Males and females are very similar in mass (male average: 1.89 kg; female average: 1.76 kg). Body length ranges from 650 to 1080 mm (average 927 mm), and there is little difference in body length between sexes (male average: 939 mm; female average: 914 mm). The ratio between the head-body and tail length is between 1.1 and 1.4.
Cape genets, like most genets have a light coat with dark spots, a dorsal stripe on the body, and dark rings on the tail. The markings and base coat color can vary among and within individuals; dark markings range from black to a rusty red and the base color varies from off-white to grey. The spots of Cape genets are relatively larger than those of small-spotted genets. However, spot size alone is not sufficient to distinguish these species. The coat of Cape genets is shorter and softer than of small-spotted genets. Cape genets have a dark-tipped tail, while small-spotted genets have a light-tipped tail. Although the facial markings (white bands on the inner side of the eyes and a brown patch at the base of the vibrissae) of Cape and small-spotted genets are similar, those of Cape genets are not as stark as those of small-spotted genets. In addition, Cape genets have a light-colored chin, while small-spotted genets have a black chin.
The skull and dentition of genets, including Cape genets, are much less specialized than those of Felidae. Genets have a longer jaw and a greater number of upper molars than Felids, and the protocone of the fourth premolar and the talonid of the first molar are large. The dental formula of Cape genets (and also small-spotted genets) is 3/3 1/1 4/4 2/2. The skull of Cape genets is more massive than that of small-spotted genets. The canines of most Cape genet specimens are longer and heavier than those of small-spotted genets, though there are exceptions, which makes canines alone insufficient to distinguish between these species.
Range mass: 0.84 to 3.20 kg.
Average mass: 1.82 kg.
Range length: 650 to 1078 mm.
Average length: 927 mm.
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Average basal metabolic rate: 4.189 W.
Cape genets prefer habitats with high vegetation cover and permanent water sources. Unlike small-spotted genets (Genetta genetta), they do not favor arid conditions and are found only in areas with greater than 450 mm of annual rainfall. Cape genets can be found in well-watered savannah woodlands and the fynbos biome, where cover is sufficient. Additionally, they appear to be well-adapted to areas of cultivation and human settlement.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; scrub forest
Other Habitat Features: riparian
- Kingdon, J. 1977. East African Mammalsm, Vol IIIA. London: Academic Press.
- Smithers, R. 1971. The Mammals of Botswana. Salisbury, Rhodesia: National Museums of Rhodesia.
Habitat and Ecology
Cape genets are omnivorous, due to their diverse, generalist diet that changes seasonally. During the summer months insects (e.g., Coleopterans, some Myriapods) dominate the diet, while in the winter Cape genets prey more heavily on rodents of the family Muridae (e.g., Mastomys spp., Saccostomus campestris, Tatera, Aethomys spp., and Dendromus melantois). Murids are thought to be the most important food items in the diet of Cape genets. Cape genets also consume prey such as reptiles (e.g., snakes, skinks, and geckos) and arachnids, and less frequently consume amphibians and birds (including poultry). Cape genets also consume seeds and fruits, and sometimes grass.
In areas where both species are present, Cape genets prefer murids even when other food sources are available, while small-spotted genets consume a variety of food sources available to them.
Cape genets feed primarily on the ground, where they normally stalk and pounce on their prey. Prey are usually subdued by repeated bites where the teeth are not fully retracted from the flesh. When a prey item is particularly tough, Cape genets may hold it with their forefeet and rake it with the claws of their hind feet.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Plant Foods: fruit
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Insectivore , Eats non-insect arthropods); omnivore
Cape genets consume a variety of terrestrial invertebrates, particularly Murids. They may also act as seed dispersers, as they occasionally consume seeds and fruits.
Little information is available regarding predators of Cape genets, however, humans are known to shoot genets on poultry farms.
Life History and Behavior
There are many parallels between the vocal repertoire of Cape genets and cats; both purr, ‘meow’, hiss and ‘spit’ in similar situations. Cape genets also make ‘churring’ and ‘yapping’ noises in stressful situations. In a number of viverrid species a ‘lost call’ vocalization has been described; young of a litter show a strong propensity to stay together, and if one kitten becomes separated from the others it emits a series of abrupt calls, causing its littermates to run to its location.
Cape genets have sebaceous anal glands that secrete a substance with a musky odour. Male Cape genets perform handstands while spreading anal secretions on vertical surfaces, and the odor often indicates points where they have urinated. The behavioral role of this scent marking is poorly understood in Cape genets, however, in small-spotted genets marking behavior may permit recognition of conspecifics and their physiological state (e.g., female in estrus) using olfactory cues. Male small-spotted genets can distinguish pregnant and non-pregnant females by olfaction of secretions from the flank glands, which appear to be under hormonal control. Unfortunately, the structure and use of these flank glands is not well understood in Cape genets.
Communication Channels: acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Little information is available regarding lifespan of Cape genets. One individual lived 34 years in captivity.
Status: captivity: 34 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 9.5 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The mating system of Cape genets is as yet unknown.
Cape genets breed in the warm, wet season from about September to March. Breeding peaks annually earl and late in this season (small-spotted genets are reported to have two litters per year). Mating behavior of captive genets has been described as cat-like; the male appears to initiate mating by following the female and repeatedly making a low call. After a while, he is permitted to smell the female's genital region, an action that she may reciprocate. Eventually the female assumes a mating posture with her shoulders low and her hindquarters slightly raised. The male mounts and subsequently grips her neck during copulation, which does not usually last longer than five minutes. After copulation, both genets lick their genitals.
Mother Cape genets give birth in a variety of nooks and crannies including hollow trees, among loose boulders, holes in the ground and in the roofs of houses. Litter size ranges from 1 to 5 kittens, and gestation is 70 to 77 days. Females have two pairs of abdominal teats, and newborn Cape genets show ‘milk tread’ behavior in which newborns stimulate milk flow by pushing on the mother’s body with forepaws while feeding. Newborns also purr while they suckle. Newborn genets weigh between 61 and 82 g. Although no records of neonatal length exist for Cape genets, small-spotted genet neonates are 14 to 15 cm in length. Kittens open their eyes and ears after 5 to 18 days, their first pair of canine teeth erupt by 4 weeks, and by 42 to 91 days the kittens are able to eat solid food. Even before the kittens can see, they respond defensively to perturbations by hissing or spitting. Cape genets are weaned by 8 to 11 weeks, and juveniles are able to kill their first prey by about 7 months of age. By 11 to 12 months, genets reach adult body mass and the permanent set of canines erupt.
Breeding interval: Cape genets breed once each year, and may breed more frequently.
Breeding season: Cape genets breed from September to March.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 5.
Range gestation period: 70 to 77 days.
Range weaning age: 8 to 11 weeks.
Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 71.5 g.
Average number of offspring: 2.5.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 1461 days.
As newborn Cape genets are unable to fend for themselves, mothers stay with their kittens to provide protection and food. Kittens are weaned at 6 to 11 weeks of age, but some females lactate as late as 6 months after giving birth. The mother licks away the excreta of her kittens much like cats, and in so doing keeps the living area of the kittens clean. Once young are able to leave their birthing area, they may accompany their mother on excursions of up to 2 hours, possibly to begin learning how to hunt.
Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
Cape genets are considered to be of ‘least concern’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of threatened species and have no special status in the appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Cape genets are known to kill poultry, especially those that roost in trees, and they can easily enter most chicken enclosures. Cape genets also frequent garbage dumps within their range.
The benefits of Cape genets on humans have not been documented.
The Cape genet (Genetta tigrina), also known as the blotched genet, large-spotted genet or muskeljaatkat in Afrikaans, is a carnivore mammal, related to the African linsang and to the civets. It lives only in South Africa. Like other genets, it is nocturnal and arboreal. They prefer to live in the riparian zones of forests, as long as they are not marshy areas. The maximum life span is 8 years and its conservation status is low risk.
Living in South Africa, the Cape genet receives its common name from its primary zone of distribution. The endemic range of the Cape genet extends from the Western Cape of South Africa to KwaZulu-Natal, south of 32°S, and to the Lesotho border. It is the most widely distributed and common carnivore in KwaZulu-Natal.
Similar in appearance to the common genet (G. genetta), the Cape genet has yellowish-grey fur with rust-colored and black rosettes, with a black and white tail. Individuals from drier areas of South Africa tend to have lighter colors and less stark patterns, while the opposite is the case in moister areas where they are found with darker and more striking patterns. The large spotted genet can be differentiated from other genets, especially the small spotted genet, by their very distinct large spots but also by their lack of long black crested hair along the spine.Melanistic individuals are known. The Cape genet has a long thin body and tail but has short legs. There is little difference in body type between the sexes.  The skull and dentition of the Cape genet are much less specialized then those of Felidae. Cape genets have a longer jaw and more morals then the norm of Felidae. The dental formula is arranged: 3/3/1/1/4/4/2//2. 
Body length ranges from 49 cm to 60 cm and the tail from 42 cm to 54 cm. Average mass of an adult Cape genet: 1.82 kg. Average basal metabolic rate: 4.189W.
Its diet is varied, and scientists consider it to be an opportunistic omnivore. Their diet consists of animals such as: birds, spiders, scorpions, fish, and insects. Various Cape genet specimens have been found to have over half of the stomach filled with invertebrates, which were most commonly of the orders Coleoptera, Orthoptera, and Isoptera. They also eat grass, which can aid digestion, dislodge hair in the intestines, induce vomiting to get rid of ingested toxins, relieve throat inflammation and stomach irritation. Another study has found that most of the prey that they consume is found in low lying bushes and that it primarily eats small rodents, with the main staple food being Dendromus sp. Birds appear to not be prevalent the Cape genet diet, which seem rather underrepresented in a semi-arboreal carnivore.
Like all viverrids, it has strong musk glands which it uses to mark its territory. The Cape genet lives primarily in well watered areas rich in wooded forests and dense habitat. Examples of these habitats are the fynbos and forests on Western and Eastern Cape. A unique feature of the Cape genet is its ability to live a broader variety of habitats. Adapted to dryer regions of their distribution, they almost exclusively reside in a riverine habitat. Within all variations of habitat, the Cape genet primarily requires thick cover for protection, shelter, and other commonly desired ecological benefits. At certain times of the year, possibly when food sources may be more scarce, they may be sighted hunting in grassland. Due to unfavorable ecological conditions, the Cape genet is not found in the southwestern arid zone of Africa.
Very little is known about the reproductive patterns or to when breeding occurs in Genetta tigrina. Various records of diverse breeding times hint that they most likely reproduce throughout the year. There are records from Kruger National Park showing newborns in February, gravid females in Transvaal in November, suckling females in eastern Transvaal in September, and newborn litters in northern Southwestern Africa in October. Gravid and lactating females have been found anywhere between August and February. The litters remain relatively small, varying from one to five young. Prior to giving birth, a natal nest is made by the mother. After giving birth, the mother will hunt and provide food to the young that stay in the nest until more developed stages have been reached. Gestation periods last approximately 70 days until the young are born. Initially the young are blind at birth but after hasty growth, in a short 8 day period, they are able to see and then shortly after they may venture from the nest. Mothers may stay with the kittens for 6 to 11 weeks of age and as late as 6 months to ensure they learn proper hunting techniques until finally they can hunt on their own. The Cape genet grows quickly and then takes on its solitary social organization.  Little is known about the average lifespan of the Cape genet in the wild. The average age in captivity is 9.5 years with the oldest reaching 34 years. 
Their average birth mass is 71.5 g, their average gestation period is 70 days, and their average number of offspring is 2.5.
Heavily adapted to arboreal living, the Cape genet often remains hidden during the day in a tree or takes strong cover on ground to avoid heat. At night the Cape genet becomes more active, using its strong eyesight and agile capabilities to be a highly effective predator. Combining speed and stealth, the Cape genet will dash in an elusive fashion, broken up by short pauses, until it reaches its prey. Being primarily nocturnal animals, they also have a heavily developed olfactory system which has been found to mark intraspecies behavioral senses allowing for more complex hunting strategies, social interactions, and mating organization. The Cape genet primarily lives solitary but can occasionally be found in pairs. Often the Cape genet can be found hissing and yapping which is a common communication strategy utilized by the Cape genet in stressful situations. Olfactory communication is evident with the sebaceous anal glands that secrete a musky odor. Though the olfactory communication mechanism is poorly understood, it is thought to communicate territory boundaries in certain cases and physiological states in others. Being a solitary species, olfactory communication is most likely very important in the life of the Cape genet, its social environment and life cycle.  When walking on branches, the Cape genet will stay low and laterally swing its legs out so that any misstep is easily correctable. The Cape genet is very agile and has even been observed swimming. 
The Cape genet faces no endangerment or threats to extinction as it has successfully kept up population levels even with an ever growing human population. However, as human expansion continues and encroaches on the natural habitat of the Cape genet, this may be the primary threat in the future. As long as humans can down regulate this environment encroachment, no natural predators are noted as having heavy burden on the survival of the Cape genet as they maintain their nocturnally elusive behavior.
Relationship with humans
The genet is known for the killing of poultry, a quality that makes farmers, in particular, very un-fond of the genet.  With poultry being the primary protein source of many African villages, the genet causes problems for the locals who are most affected.  On the more positive side the genet also preys on rodents, possibly offering a control mechanism for the rodent population. As small land rodents negatively influence the economy, this control serves of great importance to regulating primarily rodents from the family Muridae.  In addition to rodent control, the genet serves as an insect control as well, ridding many of the harmful pests in the local area. As insects are the intermediate hosts of many diseases in south eastern Africa, the Cape genet again benefits humans with an indirect disease control. 
The Cape genet is one of the species of genet kept as an exotic pet, in the U.S.A. and elsewhere. It is comparable to the ferret in not only morphology but in bringing playfulness and attachment to its owners. Some humans occasionally hunt the Cape genet for subsistence purposes but most of the hunting is due to trophy hunting. With the very low risk status that the genet maintains on population survival, appropriate amounts of conservational hunting cause no harm to the genet population. Their pelts are often used for clothing in traditional and exotic wear. Genet cats are illegal to own as pets in California. 
- Gaubert, P. & Hoffmann, M. (2008). Genetta tigrina. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 24 March 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of least concern.
- Roberts, Peter D. et al. (2007). Diet of the South African large-spotted genet Genetta tigrina (Carnivora, Viverridae) in a coastal dune forest. Acta Theriologia, 52, 45-53.
- Gaubert, P. & Hoffmann, M. 2008. Genetta tigrina. In: IUCN 2010 . IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4 .
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- Natural History Collections Department of Iziko Museums of South Africa. Biodiversity Explorer. Genetta tigrina. May 18th, 2000
- Gaubert, P. & Hoffmann, M. 2008. Genetta tigrina. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2
- Roberts, P., M. Somers, R. White, J. Nel. 2007. Diet of the South African large-spotted genet Genetta tigrina (Carnivora, Viverridae) in a coastal dune forest. Acta Theriologica, 52(1): 45-53.
- Roeder, J. 1980. Marking Behaviour and Olfactory Recognition in Genets (Genetta genetta L., Carnivora-Viverridae). Behaviour, 72(3/4): 200-210