European wildcat

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European wildcat[1]
Felis silvestris silvestris Luc Viatour.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Felis
Species: F. silvestris
Subspecies: F. s. silvestris
Trinomial name
Felis silvestris silvestris
Schreber, 1775
Leefgebied wilde kat 2.JPG
Approximate European 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 (5.5 lb). The wildcat's thick fur, size, and non-tapered tail are its distinguishing traits[2] It normally would not be mistaken for the domestic cat, although in practice, it is less clear whether the two are distinguished correctly.[3] Predominantly nocturnal, the wildcat is active in the daytime in the absence of human disturbance.[4][5]


Felis silvestris silvestris.jpg

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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8][9] In the 1990s, the easternmost populations in Ukraine, Moldova, and the Caucasus were threatened by destruction of broad-leaved forests, entailing a reduction of their range. Only small numbers occur in protected areas.[10]


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,[11][12][13] 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.[14]

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.[15] A severe reduction of rabbit populations due to myxomatosis has hastened the wildcat's decline.[6] 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."[16]

In September 2013, the Aspinall Foundation announced plans to develop an in-situ captive breeding centre on the island of Càrna, off the West coast of Scotland at Ardnamurchan,[17] a peninsula where the Scottish Wildcat Association had developed their Wildcat Haven[18] project to identify pure, un-hybridised Scottish wildcats and neuter feral cats under the management of Dr. Paul O'Donoghue,[19] who would work across both projects using a genetic test he had researched to identify hybridisation in Scottish wildcats.[20]

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"[21] approach that would conserve wildcats and hybrids exhibiting wildcat features using a relaxed definition of the wildcat.[22] 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.[21][23][24]

In July 2014 the Wildcat Haven project announced the successful neutering of feral and hybrid cats across 250 square miles of the West Highlands, creating a protected zone for the pure Scottish wildcat.[25][26]


European Wildcat in a zoo in Děčín, Czech Republic

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.[27] The largest "Tartessian" males may reach 65 cm (26 in) in length, plus a 34.5 cm-long (13.6 in) tail, and weigh 7.5 kg (17 lb). 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.[28] 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.[28]

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.[29] 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.[1]


  1. ^ a b Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 536–537. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ Condé, B. and Schauenberg, P. (1971). Le poids du chat forestier d ́Europe (Felis silvestris Schreber, 1777). [Weight of the European forest wildcat.] Revue Suisse de Zoologie 78: 295–315.
  3. ^ Krüger, M., Hertwig, S. T., Jetschke, G., & Fischer, M. S. (2009). Evaluation of anatomical characters and the question of hybridization with domestic cats in the wildcat population of Thuringia, Germany. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 47 (3): 268–282.
  4. ^ Stahl, P. 1986. [The European forest wildcat (Felis silvestris Schreber, 1777): resource exploitation and spatial organization.] Ph.D. thesis, University of Nancy, Nancy.
  5. ^ Genovesi, P. and Boitani, L. (1993). Spacing patterns and activity rhythms of a wildcat (Felis silvestris) in Italy. Pp 98-101 in Seminar on the biology and conservation of the wildcat (Felis silvestris), Nancy, France, 23-25 September 1992. Council of Europe, Strasbourg.
  6. ^ a b Neil Pooran (17 March 2013). "Scottish wildcats hit by rabbit shortage as numbers decline". Deadline News. 
  7. ^ Macdonald, D. W., Daniels, M. J., Driscoll, C. A., Kitchener, A. C. and Yamaguchi, N. (2004). The Scottish Wildcat: analyses for conservation and an action plan. The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Oxford, UK.
  8. ^ Cabral, M. J., Almeida, J., Almeida, P. R., Dellinger, T., Ferrand de Almeida, N., Oliveira, M. E., Palmeirim, J. M., Queiroz, A. I., Rogado, L. and Santos-Reis, M. (eds). (2005). Livro Vermelho dos Vertebrados de Portugal. Instituto da Conservação da Natureza, Lisboa.
  9. ^ Palomo, L. J. and Gisbert, J. (2002). Atlas de los mamíferos terrestres de España. Dirección General de Conservación de la Naturaleza. SECEM-SECEMU, Madrid, Spain.
  10. ^ Belousova, A.V. 1993. Small Felidae of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Far East: survey of the state of populations. Lutreola 2: 16–21.
  11. ^ "Scottish wildcats found in Cairngorms". BBC News. 24 April 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  12. ^ David Miller (24 April 2012). "Camera traps capture new Scottish wildcat sites in the Cairngorms". BBC News. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  13. ^ "Practical Wildcat Conservation in the Cairngorms National Park, Conference Report Summary". Highland Tiger. 24 April 2012. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  14. ^ "Can Scotland's wildcats be saved from extinction?". Scottish Herald. 13 July 2012. 
  15. ^ "Scottish wildcat extinct within months, association says". BBC News. 13 September 2012. Retrieved 13 September 2012. 
  16. ^ Gray, Sandra (1 March 2013). "Wildcat cloning idea rejected by experts – for now". TheCourier. 
  17. ^ "Remote island plan to help save Scottish wildcats from extinction". Herald Scotland. 22 September 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Scottish wildcat could be extinct 'within two years'". BBC News. 21 May 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  21. ^ a b McQuillan, Rebecca (23 September 2013). "Scottish wildcat plan 'will not save animal'". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ Kevin McKenna (23 September 2013). "Extinction by stealth: how long can the Scottish wildcat survive?". The guardian. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  24. ^ "Plan launched to save Scotland's wildcats". Wildlife Extra News. 26 September 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ Purroy, F.J. and Varela, J.M. (2003) Guía de los Mamíferos de España. Península, Baleares y Canarias. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  28. ^ a b Red Book of Iberian Mammals (Spanish)
  29. ^ Driscoll, C. A.; Menotti-Raymond, M.; Roca, A. L.; Hupe, K.; Johnson, W. E.; Geffen, E.; Harley, E. H.; Delibes, M. et al. (2007). "The Near Eastern origin of cat domestication". Science 317 (5837): 519–23. doi:10.1126/science.1139518. PMID 17600185. 

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