|Subspecies:||F. s. lybica|
|Felis silvestris lybica
The African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), also sometimes referred to as the Near Eastern Wildcat, is a wildcat subspecies that occurs across northern Africa and extends around the periphery of the Arabian Peninsula to the Caspian Sea. As it is the most common and widely distributed wild cat, it is listed as Least Concern by IUCN since 2002.
The African wildcat appears to have diverged from the other subspecies about 131,000 years ago. Some individual African wildcats were first domesticated about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East, and are the ancestors of the domestic cat. Remains of domesticated cats were found in human burials in Cyprus that are estimated to have been established by Neolithic farmers about 9,500 years ago. Crossings between domestic cats and African wildcats are still common today.
The fur colour of the African wildcat is light sandy grey, and sometimes with a pale yellow or reddish hue. The ears are reddish to grey, with long light yellow hairs around the pinna. Stripes around the face are dark ochre to black: two are running horizontally on the cheek, and four to six across the throat. A dark stripe is running along the back, the flanks are lighter, and the belly is whitish. Pale vertical stripes on the sides often dissolve into spots. Two dark rings are on the forelegs, and hind legs are striped. The feet are dark brown to black.
Pocock described the African wildcat as differing from the European wildcat by inconspicuous stripes on the nape and shoulders, a less sharply defined stripe on the spinal area and by the slender tail, which is cylindrical, less bushy and more tapering. Ears are normally tipped with a small tuft.
Skins of male wildcats from Northern Africa measured 47–59.7 cm (18.5–23.5 in) in head-to-body length with a 26.7–36.8 cm (10.5–14.5 in) long tail. Skins of female wildcats measured 40.6–55.8 cm (16.0–22.0 in) with a 24.1–33.7 cm (9.5–13.3 in) long tail. Male wildcats from Yemen measured 46–57 cm (18–22 in) in head-to-body length with a 25–32 cm (9.8–13 in) long tail; females were slightly smaller measuring 50–51 cm (20–20.1 in) in head-to-body length with a 25–28 cm (9.8–11.0 in) long tail. Both females and males ranged in weight from 3.2 to 4.5 kg (7.1 to 9.9 lb).
The fur is shorter than of the European wildcat, and it is considerably smaller.
Distribution and habitat
African wildcats occur across northern Africa and around the periphery of the Arabian Peninsula to the Caspian Sea. They are found from Morocco through Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and into Egypt, and inhabit the savannas of West Africa from Mauritania to the Horn of Africa, Sudan and Ethiopia. They are also present in all East and southern African countries. They inhabit a broad variety of habitats, especially in hilly and mountainous landscapes such as the Hoggar. But in deserts such as the Sahara they occur at much lower densities. Much better adapted to desert habitat are sand cats.
The wildcat population occurring in Sardinia was introduced from Near East and domestic cat origin, and is traditionally allocated to the African wildcat; its scientific name is Felis silvestris lybica sarda. The wildcats of the Mediterranean islands of Sicily, Corsica and Crete are considered to be European wildcats.
Ecology and behaviour
The African wildcat eats primarily mice, rats and other small mammals. When the opportunity arises, it also eats birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. The cat approaches its prey slowly, and attacks by pouncing on its prey as soon as it is within range (about one metre). The African wildcat is mainly active during the night and twilight. When confronted, the African wildcat raises its hair to make itself seem larger in order to intimidate its opponent. In the daytime it usually hides in the bushes, although it is sometimes active on dark, cloudy days. The territory of a male overlaps with that of a few females, who defend the territory against intruders. A female gives birth to two to six kittens, with three being average. The African wildcat often rests and gives birth in burrows or hollows in the ground. The gestation lasts between 56 and 69 days. The kittens are born blind and need the full care of the mother. Most kittens are born in the wet season, when there is sufficient food. They stay with their mother for five to six months and are fertile after six months.
Based on a mitochondrial DNA study of 979 domestic and wild cats from Europe, Asia, and Africa, Felis silvestris lybica is thought to have split off from the European wildcat about 173,000 years ago, and from the Asian subspecies F. s. ornata and the Southern African F. s. cafra about 131,000 years ago. About 10,000 years ago, some Felis silvestris lybica individuals were domesticated in the Middle East. Modern domestic cats are derived from at least five "Mitochondrial Eves". None of the other subspecies of Felis silvestris contributed to the domestic breed, and many of those subspecies' mtDNA is being swamped by interbreeding with feral cats.
The Libyan Posts (General Posts and Telecommunications Company, GPTC) in cooperation with World Wide Fund for Nature, dedicated a postage stamps issue to Felis lybica on November 1, 1997. The issue was made of a set of four stamps printed in minisheet with two sets.
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- Vigne, J. D., Guilaine, J., Debue, K., Haye, L., Gérard, P. (2004). Early taming of the cat in Cyprus. Science 304 (5668): 259–259.
- Kingdon, J. (1988). "Wild Cat (Felis sylvestris)". East African Mammals: An Atlas of Evolution in Africa, Volume 3, Part A: Carnivores. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-43721-3.
- Hufnagl, E., Craig-Bennett, A., and Van Weerd, E. (1972). African Wild Cat. In: Libyan Mammals. Oleander Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom. Page 42.
- Pocock, R. I. (1951). Catalogue of the Genus Felis. Trustees of the British Museum, London.
- Pocock, R. I. (1944). The Races of the North African Wild Cat (Felis lybica). Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 114 (1–2): 65–73.
- Al-Safadi, M. M., and Nader, I. A. (1990). First record of the wild cat, Felis silvestris Schreber, 1777 from the Yemen Arab Republic (Carnivora: Felidae). Mammalia 54 (4): 621–626.
- Nowell, K. and Jackson, P. (1996). Sand Cat Felis margarita. in: Wild Cats. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
- Gippoliti, S. and Amori, G. (2006). Ancient introductions of mammals in the Mediterranean Basin and their implications for conservation. Mammal Review 36: 37–48.
- Libyan Stamps online
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