European wildcat (
Felis silvestris silvestris) is the nominate
subspecies of the wildcat that inhabits forests of Western, Southern,
Eastern Europe up to the
Caucasus Mountains. It is absent
in Scandinavia and has been extirpated in England and Wales.
In France and Italy, the
European wildcat is predominantly nocturnal,
but also active in the daytime when undisturbed by human
2 Distribution and habitat
5 Conservation efforts
5.1 In Scotland
7 In captivity
9 External links
Closeup of head, Germany
European wildcat is much bigger and stouter than the domestic cat,
has longer fur and a shorter non-tapering bushy tail. It has a striped
fur and a dark dorsal band. Males average a weight of 5 kg
(11 lb) up to 8 kg (18 lb), and females 3.5 kg
(7.7 lb). Their weight fluctuates seasonally up to 2.5 kg
Large males in Spain reach 65 cm (26 in) in length, with a
34.5 cm (13.6 in) long tail, and weigh up to 7.5 kg
(17 lb). They also have a less diffuse stripe pattern,
proportionally larger teeth, and feed more often on rabbits than the
wildcats north of the Douro-Ebro, which are more dependent on small
Since European wildcats and domestic cats interbreed, it is difficult
to distinguish European wildcats and striped hybrids correctly on the
basis of only morphological characters.
Distribution and habitat
European wildcats live primarily in broad-leaved and mixed forests.
They avoid intensively cultivated areas and settlements. The
northernmost population lives in northern and eastern Scotland.
There are two disconnected populations in France. The one in the
Ardennes in the country's north-east extends to Luxembourg, Germany
and Belgium. The other in southern France may be connected via the
Pyrenees to populations in Spain and Portugal. In Germany, the
Rhine is a major barrier between the population in
Eifel and Hunsrück
mountains west of the river and populations east of the river, where a
six-lane highway hampers dispersal. The population in the Polish
Carpathian Mountains extends to northern Slovakia and western
Ukraine. In Switzerland, wildcats are present in the Jura
Mountains. Three fragmented populations in Italy comprise one in
the country's central and southern part, one in the eastern
may be connected to populations in Slovenia and Croatia. The Sicilian
population is the only Mediterranean insular population that has not
Pleistocene deposits, remains of small cats are not
common, and indicate a close relationship to the European wildcat.
In most European countries, European wildcats have become rare.
Although legally protected, they are still shot by people mistaking
them for feral cats. In the Scottish Highlands, where approximately
400 were thought to remain in the wild in 2004, interbreeding with
feral cats is a significant threat to the wild population's
distinctiveness. The greatest population of wildcats lives in
Spain and Portugal but is threatened by interbreeding with feral cats
and loss of habitat. In the 1990s, the easternmost population
in Ukraine, Moldova, and the
Caucasus was threatened by destruction of
broad-leaved forests, entailing a reduction of their range. Only small
numbers occur in protected areas.
Distribution of five
Felis silvestris subspecies recognised by a 2007
DNA study. The dark blue areas in Europe,
Turkey and the Caucasus
show the current distribution of the
European wildcat (Felis
silvestris silvestris); the lighter blue areas in Europe show the
regions where it has become extinct.
In 2012, conservationists reported to have discovered a previously
unknown population of Scottish wildcats in the Cairngorms National
Park. They are still threatened because of crossbreeding with domestic
and feral cats. The scientists reported 465 potential
sightings. In response, the Scottish
disputed the claims, stating in their website, social networks, and
press interviews that the sightings were defined as hybrid crossbreeds
by leading experts, and that the wildcat population was likely well
below 100 individuals.
In September 2012, following a review of 2,000 records including
camera trapping photographs, sighting reports, and road kills, the
Wildcat Association (SWA) warned that Scottish wildcats could
be extinct within a short time, because only 35 pure wildcats survive
in the wild. A severe reduction of rabbit populations due to
myxomatosis has hastened the wildcat's decline. In 2013, the Royal
Zoological Society of Scotland encouraged collection of biological
material, but considered cloning as an option only after "all other
avenues have been exhausted".
In September 2013, the Aspinall Foundation announced plans to develop
an in-situ captive breeding centre on the island of Càrna, off the
west coast of Scotland at Ardnamurchan. The Scottish Wildcat
Association had developed the
Wildcat Haven project on this peninsula
to identify pure Scottish wildcats and neuter feral cats, using a
genetic test to identify hybridisation in Scottish wildcats.
The news was followed by an
SNH announcement to launch a new wildcat
Action Plan taking a more "pragmatic" approach to conserve wildcats
and hybrids exhibiting wildcat features using a relaxed definition of
the wildcat. The founder and former chairman of the Scottish
Wildcat Association however considered the approach a "shameful
effort" that would force the
Scottish wildcat into
In July 2014, the
Wildcat Haven project announced the successful
neutering of feral and hybrid cats across 250 sq mi
(650 km2) of the West Highlands, creating a protected zone for
the Scottish wildcat.
On 9 March 2016, an ambitious project was announced to allocate more
than 800 square miles of the west
Scottish Highlands and to create a
further 7,000 square mile haven for wildcats. Chief scientist
Paul O'Donoghue said: “We have now developed a proven template for
wildcat conservation that can be rolled out across the western
Highlands. Eight hundred square miles can home around 100 true
Scottish wildcats, but our aim is a 7,000 square mile threat-free area
that could hold a sustainable population and save them from
Wildcat Haven is living proof that the Scottish wildcat
can and must be saved in the wild where they belong. It's all about
hybridisation. The wildcat is a very capable survivor and prefers to
breed with other wildcats, but it's so outnumbered by domestic cats
that hybridisation is inevitable. This means that over a few
generations, those wildcat genes are lost, and you're just left with
domestic and feral cats causing big problems for prey species and
Wildcat Action, is another project
to save Scottish wildcats involving six priority areas: Strathpeffer,
Strathbogie, Strathavon, Morvern, North Strathspey and the Angus
European wildcat in a zoo in Děčín, Czech Republic
Many authorities restrict the subspecies F. s. silvestris to the
populations of the European mainland. As per the old classification
that considered several different subspecies, the small population of
Scottish wildcats is F. s. grampia, the Caucasian wildcat (also
including wildcats in Turkey) is F. s. caucasica, the possibly extinct
Crete wildcat is F. s. cretensis, the Balearic wildcat is F. s.
jordansi, and the possibly extinct Corsican wildcat is F. s. reyi.
But in 2007, a genetic study suggested that the European wildcat
populations, including those in Sicily, Anatolia, and the Caucasus
Mountains belong to this subspecies as well; on the other hand,
populations in Corsica, Sardinia, Crete, and
Cyprus turned out to be
introduced African wildcats.
Two different forms often are identified in the Iberian Peninsula: the
common European form, north of the
Ebro Rivers, and a
"giant" Iberian form, sometimes considered a different subspecies F.
s. tartessia, in the rest of the region. The palaeontologist
Björn Kurtén noted that the disputed "Tartessian" subspecies has
uniquely kept the same size and proportions as the form that was found
throughout mainland Europe during the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene.
The habitat of both forms also is different: the northern, typical
population lives mainly in deciduous
Quercus robur forests and the
southern, large type in Mediterranean evergreen Quercus ilex
Despite being closely related to the domestic cat, wildcats have a
reputation for being effectively impossible to raise as pets.
Frances Pitt wrote "there was a time when I did not believe
this...my optimism was daunted" by trying to keep a wildcat she named
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Felis silvestris silvestris.
Wikispecies has information related to
Felis silvestris silvestris
Species portrait European wildcat; IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group
Save the Scottish Wildcat, general information and education website
for Scottish wildcats.
Electric Scotland: Scottish Wildcats
Kreiszeitung: Wildkatzen rücken nach Norden vor (Wildcats Reach The