Categories: African wildcat

Are African wildcats friendly?

The answer is, Yes and No. By default they are not friendly because they are held back by fear and suspicion as they are inherently solitary and territorial. However, it seems that this small wildcat species decided that survival was easier if they became friendly with people.

African wildcat in urban environment. Illustration by PoC.

I am convinced that the modern African wildcat living in northern Africa is often a wildcat hybrid and therefore by default semi-domesticated. By ‘hybrid’ I mean that a lot of Africa wildcats have crossbred with domestic cats. They are effectively first filial (F1) North African wildcat hybrids. This makes them more friendly and less suspicious of people and animals.

For ten thousand years and still today the African wildcat often lived and lives close to human settlements and they ‘frequently interbreed with domestic cats’. Although the African wildcat is by default unfriendly and instinctively suspicious of other cats and large predatory animals (to which you have to include the human), they are able to adjust to living with people. They can become quite sociable, which is why they were domesticated.

A story recounted in the book Cat of the Pharaohs (1968) by Reay Smithers, a South African biologist, highlights the self-domestication and desire to be friendly of the African wildcat. He raised two female wildcat kittens:

…rubbing themselves repeatedly against one’s legs or, if one was reading, [they] would insinuate themselves between book and and one’s face, purring loudly and rubbing themselves on the face…

He did, however, raise them. It appears that he socialised them in the time honoured way as one would do with a domestic cat. His female wildcats would go into the wild and return voluntarily. This behaviour is identical to modern day indoor/outdoor domestic cats which is unsurprising as the domestic cats are domesticated wildcats at heart.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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