Is The Scottish Wildcat a Moggie?

by Michael

Scottish Wild cat - Photo by gnasheruk

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Scottish Wild cat - Photo by gnasheruk

Is the Scottish Wildcat a Moggie? I have just read a scientific paper that begs this question. I know that there is the ever present danger that the last remaining wildcat in Great Britain, the Scottish wildcat, will be so diluted in genetic purity through random matings with domestic and feral cats that it will no longer exist, but has this already taken place and is there no such thing as a purebred wild cat in the UK or anywhere else for that matter? The evidence suggests that there is weak differentiation between the domestic and wild cat. The well known Kellas cat is a black Scottish wildcat hybrid incidentally.

The wild cat (a species of wild cat confusingly) is a species of cat that is similar to the domestic cat in size and appearance. The domestic cat companion is a domesticated version of the wild cat.

This similarity means that domestic and feral cats can readily mate with the wild cat (in contrast, for example, to the mating of the larger serval with a domestic cat to produce the Savannah). The mating produces wild cat hybrids, which in turn go on to mate again with the so called wild cat until it is no longer the same cat. This as I understand it is called introgressive hybridization. It is a long term process.

As the wild cat has been domesticated in Britain for 2000 years approximately (and about 9,500 at the earliest in Cyprus) there has been a lot of time for these matings to take place. The report concludes that wild cats of Scotland, "consist of a diverse set of individuals containing a mixture of domestic and wildcat genes.

There is no DNA available from purebred Scottish wild cats (which I presume would have to be more than 2000 years old at least) to use as a marker from which an assessment as to how impure the modern Scottish wild cat is. Neither of course is there evidence of what the Scottish wildcat looked like 2000 years ago.

Accordingly, we don't know if the present day Scottish wild cat really is a purebred cat or the original wildcat. The truth, the report concludes, is that it is unlikely that a purebred Scottish wild cat exists. The answer to the question, "is the Scottish wildcat a moggie?", is yes, sort of. The Scottish wildcat is not in that class of random breeding that makes a moggie.

This kind of problem is happening with captive big cats. When we see Siberian tigers in a zoo or captive environment it is likely that the cat is inbred and/or cross bred with say a Bengal tiger. The lesser known tigers such as the Sumatran tiger probably suffer even worse hybridisation (subspecies to subspecies).

The Scottish wildcat has had full legal protection under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and it is also protected under Annex IV of the European Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

However, this protection is difficult if not impossible to enforce because we are not able to tell whether a wild cat in Scotland is a Scottish wildcat or simply a wild cat that lives in Scotland (i.e something else). In short, experts cannot tell the difference between a hybrid wildcat and the Scottish wildcat.

The point probably is this. We have to accept the evolution of animal species. And in this instance the true wild cat has mated with a domestic version of itself or a hybrid of the two. Is that such a bad or unusual thing? The modern Scottish wildcat is not the cat of old as it has evolved in a human world.

The African wildcat was thought to have suffered the same fate but recent analysis reassures us that the wild cat in Africa is distinct from the domestic cat there.


Photo:Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic creative commons license.

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