Can European wildcats be domesticated?

The question is a sensible one because all of the world’s half a billion domestic and feral cats originate in a domesticated North African wildcat (Far Eastern wildcat or African-Asian wildcat). It happened about 10,000 years ago. Nowadays there are still wild cats roaming around Europe. These are European wildcats which Ire still found in the Iberian Peninsula, Italy, Central and Eastern Europe up to the Caucasus. They weigh about 17 pounds and look like robust, large domestic tabby cats with a slightly fierce expression.

European wildcat meows
European wildcat meows. It has to because it is the wild cat ancestor of the domestic cat. Photo published under a creative commons license on Flickr
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The North African wildcat (Felis lybica and Felis silvestris ornata) domesticated very nicely judging by the popularity of the domestic cat today. And of course, the North African wildcats still exists in Africa and north of Africa into Asia and no doubt they are still, on occasion, being domesticated but we don’t hear reports about that.

If the character of the European Wildcat is the same or similar to that of the African wildcat then it should be possible to domesticate the European species. But two sources that I have found say that it is impossible to domesticate this fierce feline.

The first reference on this is Dr. Bruce Fogle’s The Encyclopaedia of the Cat at page 19 where he writes, “Unlike the African wildcat, which can be domesticated if raised from kittenhood, the wildcats of Europe appear to be innately fearful of humans. This trait is so strong that even a hybrid of wildcat and domestic cat…will be a lifelong ‘spitfire’, unable to adapt to life with people”.

The other source is a reference on the Wikipedia website which is: Bradshaw, J. (2013). “The Cat at the Threshold“. Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed. Penguin Books Limited. pp. 36–37. ISBN 978-0-241-96046-2. In that book it is said that the European wildcat has a reputation for being impossible to raise as a pet. And there’s a mention of the naturalist Frances Pitt who wrote “there was a time when I did not believe this…my optimism was daunted” by trying to keep a wildcat that she named Beelzebina. The name appears to be a derivative of Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. Clearly a reference to the difficulty that she had in interacting and living with her impossible wildcat.

I’m surprised at the results because the question that comes to my mind it why should there be such a huge difference in character between the North African and European wildcats. Their distribution might even overlap in some parts and in any case, it seems unreasonable to believe that their characters should be so contrasting but nonetheless that is the conclusion: European Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) cannot be domesticated but North African ones can.

Scottish wildcat
Scottish wildcat. Technically I would classify the Scottish wildcat as a European wildcat. Photo: Mike Seamons.


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