Wildcat

The range of the European wildcat has contracted dramatically in recent years. It is a shy species and is rarely spotted by humans.

ANIMAL FACTS

One of the ancestors of the domestic cat, the wild cat is similar in form but slightly larger, and has a shorter, thicker tail, which is encircled with black rings. Coloration varies according to habitat, cats in dry sandy areas being lighter than forest-dwelling cats. Largely solitary and nocturnal, the wild cat lives in a well-defined territory. Although it is an agile climber, it stalks most of its prey on the ground, catching small rodents and ground-dwelling birds.

Rival courting males howl and screech as they vie for the attention of a female, and it is she who eventually makes the selection. She bears 2 or 3 young after a gestation of 63 to 68 days. The young first emerge from the den, in a cave, hollow tree or fox hole, when they are 4 or 5 weeks old and leave their mother after about 5 months.

These wildcats prey mainly on rodents, although they may also catch birds. The Scottish population, occurring in relatively open countryside, hunts rabbits and hares. These wildcats were heavily persecuted by gamekeepers, but the biggest threat to their survival today is the domestic cat. They will hybridize readily, and it is difficult to stop this process. Studies suggest that seven out of eight Scottish wildcats now have some domestic cat genes in their ancestry.

VITAL STATISTICS

Distribution: Confined to forested areas in the Iberian Peninsula northeastwards and along the Mediterranean, to Turkey and the Caucasus. An isolated population is present in Scotland.

Habitat: Forest, scrub, savanna, open plains, semidesert.

Weight: 3 – 8 kg (6.5 – 17.5 lb).

Length: 75 – 138 cm (30 – 54 in), including tail; about 40 cm (16 in) tall.

Maturity: 6 – 12 months.

Gestation Period: 63 – 68 days.

Breeding: Average 2 – 4, but can be up to 8; weaning at around 80 days.

Food: Carnivorous, hunting a variety of small prey.

Lifespan: 8 – 10 years, although can live up to 15.

Tail

The tail is usually shorter and thicker than that of a domestic cat

Colouration

Coat colour can be variable, from slate grey to dark brown, with tabby markings.

Head

The head is broad with powerful jaws. White fur may extend from around the jaws down the throat.

Feet

There are only four toes here, with all the cat’s daws protected by sheaths.

RUNNING WILD

A domestic cat with tabby markings (top) compared with a European wildcat. The European species is descended from the African wildcat.

Gallery of Wildcat