|Subspecies:||F. s. silvestris|
|Felis silvestris silvestris
|Approximate Eurasian wildcat range within Europe (also in Turkey and Caucasus)|
The European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) is a subspecies of the wildcat that inhabits the forests and grasslands of Europe, as well as Turkey and the Caucasus Mountains. It has been extirpated from Scandinavia, England, and Wales and numbers in Scotland are critically low. Some authorities restrict F. s. silvestris to populations of the European mainland, in which case populations of Scotland, Mediterranean islands, Turkey, and Caucasus are regarded as separate subspecies.
In appearance the European wildcat is much bulkier than the African wildcat and the domestic cat, although its weight is similar to the average house cat, as males of the species weigh an average of 5 kg (11 lb) and females 3.5 kg (7.7 lb), with strong seasonal weight fluctuations of up to 2.5 kg. The wildcat's thick fur, size, and non-tapered tail are its distinguishing traits; it normally would not be mistaken for the domestic cat, although in practice, it is less clear whether the two are frequently distinguished correctly, as one study showed an error rate of 39%. Predominantly nocturnal, the wildcat is active in the daytime in the absence of human disturbance.
Wildcats were common in the European Pleistocene era; when the ice vanished, they became adapted to a life in dense forests. They also live in grasslands. In most European countries, they have become very rare. Although legally protected, they are still shot by people mistaking them for feral domestic cats. In the Scottish Highlands, where approximately 400 were thought to remain in the wild in 2004, interbreeding with feral cats is a significant threat to the wild population's distinctiveness. Although Spain and Portugal are the West European countries with the greatest population of wild cats, the animals in these region are threatened by breeding with feral cats and loss of habitat. The easternmost populations, in Ukraine, Moldova, and the Caucasus, have low levels of domestic cat hybridization.
In 2012, conservationists reported discovering previously unknown populations of Scottish wildcats living in the Cairngorms National Park, but still threatened because of crossbreeding with domestic and feral cats. The scientists reported 465 potential sightings, in response, the Scottish Wildcat Association refuted the claims stating in their website, social networks, and press interviews that the sightings were defined as hybrid crossbreeds by leading experts, and that the wildcat population was likely well below 100 individuals.
In September 2012, following a review of 2,000 records of camera trap sightings, eyewitness reports, and road kills, the Scottish Wildcat Association (SWA) warned that Scottish wildcats could be extinct in the wild within months, their analysis suggesting that the number of pure-bred cats had fallen to approximately 35 individuals. A severe reduction of rabbit populations due to myxomatosis has hastened the wildcat's decline. In March 2013, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland said it encouraged collection of biological material, but that cloning would be considered only after "all other avenues have been exhausted."
In September 2013, the Aspinall Foundation announced plans to develop an in-situ captive breeding centre on the island of Carna, off the West coast of Scotland at Ardnamurchan, a peninsula where the Scottish Wildcat Association had developed their Wildcat Haven project to identify pure, un-hybridised Scottish wildcats and neuter feral cats under the management of Dr. Paul O'Donoghue, who would work across both projects using a genetic test he had researched to identify hybridisation in Scottish wildcats.
The news was followed by an SNH announcement that after a year of consultation they were to launch a new wildcat action plan taking a more "pragmatic" approach that would conserve wildcats and hybrids exhibiting wildcat features using a relaxed definition of the wildcat. Steve Piper, founder and former chairman of the Scottish Wildcat Association, author of the Wildcat Haven project, and a former consultant to the SNH action plan responded that the approach was a "shameful effort" that would force the pure Scottish wildcat into extinction.
Two different forms often are identified in the Iberian Peninsula: the common European form, north of the Douro and Ebro Rivers, and a "giant" Iberian form, sometimes considered a different subspecies F. s. tartessia, in the rest of the territory. The largest "Tartessian" males may reach 65 cm in length (plus a 34.5 cm-long tail), and weight 7.5 kg. They also have a less diffuse stripe pattern, proportionally larger teeth, and feed more often on rabbits than the wildcats north of the Douro-Ebro, which are more dependent on small rodents. In his book Pleistocene Mammals of Europe (1963), palaeontologist Dr. Björn Kurtén noted that the disputed "Tartessian" subspecies has uniquely kept the same size and proportions as the form that was found throughout mainland Europe during the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene. The habitat of both forms also is different: the northern silvestris lives mainly in deciduous Quercus robur forests and the southern tartessia in Mediterranean evergreen Quercus ilex forests.
Many authorities restrict the subspecies F. s. silvestris to the populations of the European mainland, but in 2007, a genetic study suggested that the European populations, as well as populations in Sicily, Anatolia, and the Caucasus Mountains belong in this subspecies; on the other hand, populations in Corsica, Sardinia, Crete, and Cyprus turned out to be introduced African wildcats. As per the old classification that considered several different subspecies, the small population of Scottish wildcats is F. s. grampia, the Caucasian wildcat (also including wildcats in Turkey) is F. s. caucasica, the possibly extinct Crete wildcat is F. s. cretensis, the Balearic wildcat is F. s. jordansi, and the possibly extinct Corsican wildcat is F. s. reyi.
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- Red Book of Iberian Mammals (Spanish)
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Felis silvestris silvestris.|
|Wikispecies has information related to: Felis silvestris silvestris|
- Scottish Wildcat Association charitable organisation with the aim of conserving the unique Scottish wildcat in the West Highlands through the Wildcat Haven Project
- Highland Tiger, a conservation and research group raising awareness of and promoting public support for Scottish wildcat conservation; publishes a Wildcat Identification Guide.
- Kreiszeitung: Wildkatzen rücken nach Norden vor (Wildcats Reach The North) (German)
- Discoverwildlife.com: Wildcat gallery by Fabrice Cahez