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Wildcat - Felis silvestris

By: C.M.Shorter

The Wildcat has the most diverse habitat of all of our Wild Cats covering range over several countries. It is not surprising that the African wildcat is the ancestor of modern our modern domestic felines. Slightly larger and more robust, the Wildcat covers territory throughout Scotland, France, Spain, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Russia, Africa & Asia. There are three separate distinct lineages:

F.s. silvestris group (Forest cats) Europe, Caucasus and Asia Minor
F.s. ornata group (Steppe cats) of South & Central Asia
F.s. lybica group (Tawney cats) Africa & the Middle East

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Coloring is just as diverse with base coats varying dependent upon habitat from dark greyish-brown and greyish yellow in forested areas to pale, through sandy brown or grey coloring in desert environments. Markings vary from the European to African species although both usually have facial striping and undersides are of lighter tones. Heads are broader than those of our domestic cat with small, pointed ears lacking the conspicuous "False Eye" spotting so prevalent as a natural defense mechanism among other Wild Cats. The soles of their feet are usually black. Melanistic individuals occur primarily as a result of interbreeding with feral domestic cats. These black cats are becoming more common, particularly in Scotland, are known as "Kellas Cats".

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Wildcats are nocturnal and terrestrial hunters, normally stalking their prey hunting in much the same fashion as a domestic cat does using the widely observed "stalk and pounce" method. Prey consists of a variety of rodents - mice, rats, voles and gerbils to rabbits, young wild boar, reptiles, frogs, fish and insects. Domestication of the African Wildcat occurred 4,000 to 8,000 years ago by the Ancient Egyptians who worshiped the Wildcat so much, they mummified them and took them with them into the next world. Many Wildcats are buried in the tombs of the Ancient Egyptians and carvings depicting them in reverence remain on ancient temple walls. Present day African villagers are known to capture the Wildcat and keep them as pets primarily for rodent control.

Primary threats to the Wildcat are dilution of their gene pool by interbreeding with feral and domestic cats, persecution by farmers for the taking of livestock, vehicular death like the Florida Panther and Key Deer and obviously, habitat and population defragmentation. The European group is protected over all of its range, the African is not protected, and the Asian group is only partially protected. The Asian group in particular was hunted extensively for the fur trade, but indicators show a decline in the number of pelts being brought to market. The Wildcat is currently placed on CITES Appendix II.

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Scientific Name: Felis silvestris
Common Name(s): Wildcat, Scottish Wildcat, Desert Cat
Range: Scotland, France, Spain, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Russia, India, Africa and Asia.
Average Weight: 3 - 8kg (7 - 18lbs)
Length: 72 - 115cm (29 - 46")
Diet: Carnivorous. Variety of rodents - mice, rats, voles and gerbils to rabbits, young wild boar, reptiles, frogs, fish and insects.
Gestation Period: 58 - 68 Days
Cub Maturity: 4 - 6 Months
Cubs Per Litter: 1- 8 Kittens
Lifespan: 10 - 12 years. Captive individuals have been recorded to live up to 15 years.
Predators: Man. Threat: Interbreeding with feral cats polluting genetic lineage.
Social Structure: Social to some degree.
Territory Size: 20 - 45km (11- 25 miles)
Conservation Status: Placed on CITES Appendix II.

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