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, 1777
Leefgebied wilde kat 2.JPG
Approximate European wildcat range within Europe, including Turkey and Caucasus)

The European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) is a subspecies of the wildcat that inhabits European forests, as well as forested areas in Turkey and the Caucasus Mountains. It is absent in Scandinavia, and has been extirpated in England and Wales. Numbers in Scotland are critically low.[2]

Predominantly nocturnal, the European wildcat is active in the daytime in the absence of human disturbance.[3][4]

Populations in Scotland, the Mediterranean islands, Turkey, and Caucasus used to be considered separate wildcat subspecies and distinct from wildcats occurring on the European mainland.[1]


The European wildcat is much bigger and stouter than the domestic cat, has longer pelage and a shorter non-tapering bushy tail. It has a striped fur and a dark dorsal band.[5] Males average a weight of 5 kg (11 lb) up to 8 kg (18 lb), and females 3.5 kg (7.7 lb). Their weight fluctuates seasonally up to 2.5 kg (5.5 lb).[6]

Since European wildcats and domestic cats interbreed, it is difficult to distinguish European wildcats and striped hybrids correctly on the basis of only morphological characters.[7]


In European Pleistocene deposits, remains of small cats are not common, and indicate a close relationship to the European wildcat.[8]


European wildcat in a game park in Germany

In most European countries, European wildcats have become rare. Although legally protected, they are still shot by people mistaking them for feral 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.[9] The greatest population of wildcats lives in Spain and Portugal but is threatened by interbreeding with feral cats and loss of habitat.[10][11] In the 1990s, the easternmost population in Ukraine, Moldova, and the Caucasus was threatened by destruction of broad-leaved forests, entailing a reduction of their range. Only small numbers occur in protected areas.[12]

Conservation efforts[edit]

In Scotland[edit]

In 2012, conservationists reported to have discovered a previously unknown population of Scottish wildcats in the Cairngorms National Park. They are still threatened because of crossbreeding with domestic and feral cats. The scientists reported 465 potential sightings.[13][14][15] In response, the Scottish Wildcat Association disputed 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.[16]

In September 2012, following a review of 2,000 records including camera trapping photographs, sighting reports, and road kills, the Scottish Wildcat Association (SWA) warned that Scottish wildcats could be extinct within a short time, because only 35 pure wildcats survive in the wild.[17] A severe reduction of rabbit populations due to myxomatosis has hastened the wildcat's decline.[18] In 2013, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland encouraged collection of biological material, but considered cloning as an option only after "all other avenues have been exhausted".[19]

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.[20] The Scottish Wildcat Association had developed the Wildcat Haven project on this peninsula to identify pure Scottish wildcats and neuter feral cats, using a genetic test to identify hybridisation in Scottish wildcats.[21][22][23]

The news was followed by an SNH announcement to launch a new wildcat Action Plan taking a more "pragmatic" approach to conserve wildcats and hybrids exhibiting wildcat features using a relaxed definition of the wildcat.[24][25] The founder and former chairman of the Scottish Wildcat Association however considered the approach a "shameful effort" that would force the Scottish wildcat into extinction.[24][26][27]

In July 2014, the Wildcat Haven project announced the successful neutering of feral and hybrid cats across 250 sq mi (650 km2) of the West Highlands, creating a protected zone for the Scottish wildcat.[28][29]


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 region.[30] 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.[31] 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.[31]

Many authorities restrict the subspecies F. s. silvestris to the populations of the European mainland.[1] But in 2007, a genetic study suggested that the European populations, as well as populations in Sicily, Anatolia, and the Caucasus Mountains belong to this subspecies as well; on the other hand, populations in Corsica, Sardinia, Crete, and Cyprus turned out to be introduced African wildcats.[32] 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 c d Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 536–537. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ Driscoll, C., Nowell, K. (2010). "Felis silvestris". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
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  6. ^ Condé, B.; 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. ISSN 0035-418X. 
  7. ^ 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. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0469.2009.00537.x. 
  8. ^ Kurtén, B. (1965). "On the evolution of the European Wild Cat, Felis silvestris Schreber". Acta Zoologica Fennica 111: 3–34. 
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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.
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  14. ^ Miller, D. (24 April 2012). "Camera traps capture new Scottish wildcat sites in the Cairngorms". BBC News. 
  15. ^ Baird, E. (2012). "Practical Wildcat Conservation in the Cairngorms National Park, Conference Report Summary" (PDF). Highland Tiger. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  16. ^ McQuilan, R. (13 July 2012). "Can Scotland's wildcats be saved from extinction?". Scottish Herald. 
  17. ^ "Scottish wildcat extinct within months, association says". BBC News. 2012. Retrieved 13 September 2012. 
  18. ^ Pooran, N. (2013). "Scottish wildcats hit by rabbit shortage as numbers decline". Deadline News. 
  19. ^ Gray, S. (1 March 2013). "Wildcat cloning idea rejected by experts – for now". The Courier. 
  20. ^ "Remote island plan to help save Scottish wildcats from extinction". The Herald. Glasgow. 22 September 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  21. ^ "Wildcat Haven, where the true Scottish wildcat can be saved".
  22. ^ Wildcat Haven. January 2013
  23. ^ "Scottish wildcat could be extinct 'within two years'". BBC News. 21 May 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  24. ^ a b McQuillan, R. (23 September 2013). "Scottish wildcat plan 'will not save animal'". The Herald. Glasgow. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  25. ^ Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan. September 2013
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  27. ^ "Plan launched to save Scotland's wildcats". Wildlife Extra News. 26 September 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
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  32. ^ 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" (PDF). Science 317 (5837): 519–23. Bibcode:2007Sci...317..519D. doi:10.1126/science.1139518. PMID 17600185. 

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