A subspecies of the wildcat, the European wildcat is found across Europe and in some parts of Asia Minor. They resemble domestic cats and are closely related to the African wildcat, the Asian wildcat and the Chinese Mountain cat.
Genetic studies have shown that our domestic cats are probably descendants of the African wildcat and not the European wildcat. The latter are bulkier than African wildcats and studies have shown that the further north they live, the bulkier they appear to be.
European wildcats also have thicker fur than their domestic counterparts and sport thick, non-tapered tails. They are predominantly nocturnal, but have been seen hunting during the day in areas with low human activity.
Although generally quiet, European wildcats have the same range of vocalisations as domestic cats, including purring, meowing, hissing and growling.
European Wild Cat
Scientific name: Felis silvestris silvestris
Distribution: Central Europe, Scottish Highlands, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Sicily, Greece, Turkey and the Caucasus Mountains
Habitat: They prefer broad-leaved or mixed forests, but are also found in scrubland, riparian forest, marsh boundaries and along the coast
Prey: Small rodents (mice, moles and rats), birds (including chickens and ducks), dormice, hares and river rats
Number of kittens in a litter: 1-7
Lifespan: 13-14 years
Conservation status: Protected
Scottish Wild Cats
Wildcats in Scotland are slightly larger than those on the European continent and some scientists believe they are a different subspecies. Wildcats have disappeared in the rest of Britain hundreds of years ago and only a small population remains in the Scottish Highlands (about 100 purebred individuals and a further 300 to 400 hybrids – crossbreeding between wildcats and domestic cats is one of the main threats to this species). Several measures are in place to protect the Scottish wildcats, including a captive breeding centre on the island of Càrna, off the West coast of Scotland, as well as the Wildcat Haven project, also on the island. In an attempt to prevent hybridisation, all feral cats in the area are neutered.
The full article appears in the March 2015 issue of AnimalTalk.