Picture of a European wildcat

As this photograph was taken in what appears to be a German zoo, I will presume that it is a European wildcat. It as taken by Melanie Kahl of BUND Bundesverband for the BUND Wildkatzen-Symposium 2016. That is the Bund wildcat symposium. ‘Bund’ is a German wildlife conservation group, as I understand it. The tabby banding on the tail and its thickness, for me, gives the game away by which I mean this is the classic appearance of a wildcat. I am, incidentally, referring to a species of wild cat. This is one of the confusing aspects of this particular species because it is named by joining the words “wild” and “cat”. Whereas all the wild cats together are called wild cat species. You can see the complication.

Photo of a wildcat by Melanie Kahl for the Wildkatzensymposium in der Fachhochschule, Erfurt
Photo of a wildcat by Melanie Kahl for the Wildkatzensymposium in der Fachhochschule, Erfurt. It is published on Flickr.com.
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It’s a good picture. It caught my eye because immediately you see the photograph, if you are a cat lover, you ask the question as to whether this is a domestic cat or a wild cat. Initially I thought that this was a non-purebred wildcat because there is a patch of white fur on the chest and there is white fur around the muzzle. But this also seems to be a part of the classic appearance of the European wildcat.

One of the great problems with this species, especially in Scotland, is that they tend to breed with feral and stray domestic cats which means they become non-purebred. They become hybrids with 50% domestic cat genes in them. Unfortunately they can still look pretty much like the genuine article, the purebred wildcat. This is perhaps the major reason why this species of cat is becoming extinct. They are present but they are not the true wildcat. The same can be said about Africa. In Africa the wildcat frequents settlements and villages where they breed with domestic cats and so once again you have this dilution of the genetic purity of the wildcat.

The Latin or scientific name for this species of cat is Felis sylvestris sylvestris. As you can see they look very much like a large domestic tabby cat. The coat looks quite lush and thick and the face has that strong feral cat appearance. In general this cat is more robust than the domestic cat although the cat in the photograph doesn’t look all that robust to me because they look underweight. I don’t know why this cat is underweight. She may be ill or she may be elderly. Those are perhaps the most likely reasons.

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

One wildcat had a record weight of about 8 kg for a male that was found in Scotland. The coat is a grey/brown and on this cat there’s faint tabby stripes on the flanks. They have relatively short legs compared to some of the other small wildcat such as the jungle cat. There are doubts whether the cats still exist in Scotland. They will say that it does but there are doubts about it in truth because as mentioned, the remaining cat might be hybrids.

As you would expect they behave in terms of hunting, reproduction and development very much like the domestic cat. This is because what you see here is the precursor to the domestic cat. From this sort of cat we arrived at the domestic cat and it took 10,000 years of domestication living with humans to create the cat that we have today in our homes. There is not much different as you can see. That’s why your domestic cat in your home, on your lap is not that far away from wildcat in terms of general behaviour, mentality, drives, desires and motivations et cetera. This is why you have to respect the domestic cat as a cat. That might sound stupid but cat owners can sometimes forget that they are living with an animal which is not that far from the wild.

As expected the European Wildcat feeds on rodents just like a domestic cat does if they’re allowed to wander outside and hunt freely. Although because the European wildcat is larger than a domestic cat they can sometimes feed on large animals such as hares and even young deer. They also eat grasses just like your domestic cat and insects, once again just like domestic cats. And they will eat fruit, fish, martens, polecats, weasels and frogs as well.

The areas where they live in Europe have been greatly diminished over the years. The numbers have been reduced massively in parallel. They were considered to be vermin throughout much of their distribution and they’ve been hunted for their fur and displaced by land clearance and agriculture. If the usual sort of human to wild cat persecution because of increased human population and as a consequence increased human activities which disturb and destroy the wild cat habitat.


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