The European wildcat (Felis silvestris) is a small wildcatspecies native to continental Europe, Scotland, Turkey and the Caucasus. It inhabits forests from the Iberian Peninsula, Italy, Central and Eastern Europe to the Caucasus. Its fur is brownish to grey with stripes on the forehead and on the sides and has a bushy tail with a black tip. It reaches a head-to-body length of up to 65 cm (26 in) with a 34.5 centimetres (13.6 in) long tail, and weighs up to 7.5 kg (17 lb).
In France and Italy, the European wildcat is predominantly nocturnal, but also active in the daytime when undisturbed by human activities. It preys foremost on small mammals such as lagomorphs and rodents, but also on ground-dwelling birds.
Felis grampia proposed by Gerrit Smith Miller Jr. in 1907 was a skin and a skull of a male wildcat from Invermoriston in Scotland. Miller revised his classification in 1912, proposing Felis silvestris grampia after reviewing more wildcat skins from Scotland.
Felis tartessia also proposed by Miller in 1907 was a skin and a skull of a male wildcat from Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain. The wildcats north of the Douro and Ebro Rivers are said to be smaller than in the rest of the region. The disputed "Tartessian" wildcat has kept the same size and proportions as the form that was found in mainland Europe during the PleistoceneIce Ages.
As of 2017, two subspecies are recognised as valid taxa:
F. s. silvestris in continental Europe, Scotland and Sicily
The European wildcat's fur varies in colour from brownish to grey with paler contour hairs. It has five stripes on the forehead, which are broken up into small spots. A dark stripe behind the shoulders expands into a spinal stripe running up to the base of the tail. On the sides, it has irregular dark stripes, which break up on the hind legs, thus forming a blotched pattern. Its tail is bushy with two to three black, transverse rings and rounded at the black tip. The top of the head and the forehead bear four well-developed dark bands that split into small spots. Two short and narrow stripes are usually present in the shoulder region, in front of the dorsal band. Some individuals have a few light spots on the throat, between the forelegs, or in the inguinal region. The dorsal surface of the neck and head are the same colour as that of the trunk, but is lighter grey around the eyes, lips, cheeks, and chin. A slight ochreous shade is visible on the undersides of the flanks. A black and narrow dorsal band starts on the shoulders, and runs along the back up to the base of the tail. In some animals, the summer coat is ashen coloured. The patterns on the head and neck are as well-developed as those on the tail, though the patterns on the flanks are almost imperceptible. Guard hairs measure 7 cm (3 in), the tip hairs 5.5–6 cm (2+1⁄8–2+3⁄8 in), and the underfur 11–14 cm (4+1⁄2–5+1⁄2 in). Corresponding measurements in the summer are 5–6.7 cm (2–2+5⁄8 in), 4.5–6 cm (1+3⁄4–2+1⁄4 in), and 5.3 cm (2+1⁄8 in).
Large males in Spain reach 65 cm (26 in) in length, with a 34.5 cm (13+1⁄2 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 rodents.
The European wildcat is on average bigger and stouter than the domestic cat, has longer fur and a shorter non-tapering bushy tail. It has 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 (8 lb). Their weight fluctuates seasonally up to 2.5 kg (6 lb).
European wildcats have proportionately shorter cheek tooth rows with smaller teeth, but a broader muzzle than African wildcats. Since European wildcats and domestic cats opportunistically interbreed, it is difficult to distinguish wildcats and striped hybrids correctly on the basis of only morphological characteristics.
The European wildcat lives primarily in broad-leaved and mixed forests. It avoids intensively cultivated areas and settlements. The northernmost population lives in northern and eastern Scotland. It has been extirpated in England and Wales.
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 the Netherlands, European wildcats were recorded in 1999 near Nijmegen and in 2004 in North Brabant; these individuals had possibly dispersed from Germany. 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.
In Switzerland, European 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 Alps that may be connected to populations in Slovenia and Croatia. The Sicilian population is the only Mediterranean insular population that has not been introduced.
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 population in Portugal and Spain is also threatened by interbreeding with feral cats and loss of habitat. The extent of hybridization is low in Germany, Italy and Luxembourg. 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.
In 2004, the Friends of the Earth Germany initiated the project "Safety Net for the European Wildcat". This project aimed at relinking Germany's forests by planting bushes and trees between areas inhabited by and suitable for European wildcat, and which are larger than 500 km2 (190 sq mi). They developed the "Wildcat Routing Map", a map depicting the 20,000 km (12,000 mi) long network of corridors. An Action Plan for the Protection of the European Wildcat in Germany was developed in 2009, aiming at doubling the area inhabited by European wildcat and linking populations within Germany and with neighbouring countries until 2019.
In 2013, the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Group developed the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan. With this plan, the group set national action priorities and defined responsibilities of agencies and funding priorities for conservation efforts between 2013 and 2019. Its implementation is coordinated by Scottish Natural Heritage. However, the population has been deemed no longer viable.
The European wildcat has the reputation for being effectively impossible to raise as a pet. Naturalist 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 Beelzebina.
In England, conservationists plan to start a captive breeding programme in 2019 with the aim to reintroduce cats into the wild by 2022.[needs update]
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