See this image in larger format and a full detailed description of the European wildcat. Is this a hybrid?
The taxonomy of the wildcat has been, and still is, in dispute. Taxonomy, in this instance, means the scientific classification of the species called the “wildcat” into subspecies.There is a lack of certainty as to wildcat subspecies. This affects how to present an article on the Eurorpean wildcat. Genetic analysis is gradually creating more certainties but initially it creates uncertainty as previous classifications are then considered to be innacurate.
The current position is that there are probably five subspecies of wildcat:
- European wildcat – Felis silvestris silvestris
- Chinese desert (mountain) cat – Felis silvestris bieti
- African wildcat or Near Eastern wildcat – Felis silvestris lybica
- Asiatic wildcat – Felis silvestris ornata
- Southern African wildcat – Felis silvestris cafra
The Scottish wildcat is considered a European wildcat. The Scottish Wildcat Association have classified their cat as a subspecies: Felis silvestris grampia. Classification is still in dispute it seems.
The appearance is similar to today’s domestic tabby cat. This is because the domestic cat is a close relative of the Near Eastern wildcat or African wildcat. The group of 5 subspecies have a similar appearance.
The European wildcat has strong facial markings that are reminiscent of many wild cat species but which are never seem on domestic cats. This wildcat subspecies is the size of a large domestic cat. It looks more robust that a domestic cat. The European subspecies is less slender than the African wildcat although the weight is the same.
The European wildcat is a stocky (cobby in show cat language) cat. The coat is tabby and there is clear ticking as well. The classic tabby “M” is visible on the forehead.
The coat color is grey-brown and there are dark stripes over the torso, tail, head and limbs. The chin and chest is white.
This is very wide from Scotland in the west to the Caspian Sea in the east.
See wildcat distribution in general.
The distribution is, in fact, greatly fragmented – what the IUCN Red ListTM call a “relic distribution” – a range that has been much reduced over the preceding 2-300 years. This cat is probably extinct in Czech Republic, Netherlands and Austria for example. Populations appear stable or are decreasing depending on the region (at 2011).
As their geographic range is very wide, extending well beyond the political concept of what constitutes Europe, the habitat differs considerably across its range. A common requirement is cover for hunting, resting and birthing. The European wildcat habitat includes:
- pine forests, woodlands, moorlands, mountaneous landscape and scrub – Scotland
- mixed forest – Carpathian Mountains
- montane forests – Eastern Europe
As to elevation above sea level the European wildcat will avoid deep snow.
See hunting and habitat.
Prey includes small animals such as rodents: voles, mice, rat. Wildcats in Slovakia primarily feed on meadow mouse (61.5% – frequency of occurence of prey items in diet (% of samples – scats1).
Two litters per year for some females. Captive European wild cats have litters of 1-8 kittens. Gestation is 63-69 days. At about 6 weeks of age the young begin to eat mice and birds and venture out of the den 10-12 weeks of age.
Threats & Conservation
I have an article on the threats and conservation of the European, African and Asian wildcats. Gamekeepers would kill the wildcat because it killed game bird chicks.
Hybridization is probably the biggest single threat. It could be argued that many European wildcats are hybrids, a cross between random bred feral and domestic cats and the purebred wildcat. The classic example is the problem faced by the Scottish wildcat and its hybridization.
From the Scottish wildcat survey.
Status in the Wild
The IUCN Red List assess the wildcat generally in terms of its survival in the wild. The European not assessed separately. The assessment is Least Concern.
1. Wild Cats of the World page 89 ISBN-13: 978-0-226-77999-7