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European Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris)

The European Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) is a subspecies of the
wildcat that inhabits forests of Western, Central, Eastern and Southern Europe,
as well as Scotland, Turkey and the Caucasus Mountains; it has been extirpated
from Scandinavia, England and Wales. Some authorities restrict F. s. silvestris
to populations of the European mainland, in which case populations of Scotland,
Mediterranean islands, Turkey and Caucasus are regarded as separate subspecies.

The physical appearance of the European Wildcat is much bulkier than that of the African Wildcat and the Domestic cat. The thick fur and size are distinguishing traits; the Wildcat normally would not be mistaken for the Domestic Cat although in practice it is less clear whether the two are correctly distinguished (one study showed an error rate of 39%). In contrast to the Domestic Cat, it is most active in the daytime.



 

Wildcats were common in the European Pleistocene era; when the ice vanished,
they became adapted to a life in dense forests. In most European countries they
have become very rare. Although legally protected, they are still shot by
hunters mistaking them for domestic cats. In the Scottish Highlands, where
approximately 400 are thought to be remaining in the wild, interbreeding with
feral cats is a significant threat to the wild population. Although Spain and
Portugal are the West European countries with the greatest population of wild
cats, the animals in these region are threatened by breeding with feral cats and
loss of habitat. The easternmost populations, in Ukraine, Moldova, and the
Causasus, have low levels of domestic cat hybridization.

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Cat of the month

Borneo Bay Cat (Pardofelis Badia)

One of the world’s least-known and most endangered wild cats, the bay cat, has been photographed by Panthera grantees Jedediah Brodie (Universiti Malaysia Sabah/ University of British Columbia) and Anthony Giordano (S.P.E.C.I.E.S/Texas Tech University). Their photograph is the first record of this very elusive cat in the Borneo highlands, at 1460 meters (approximately 4,800 feet).

The records add to our very limited knowledge of the species, which was photographed alive for the first time only in 1998 and where most previous records are from dense lowland forest under 800 meters (approximately 2,600 feet).

Borneo’s bay cat is so elusive that it took over a century before researchers got a chance to study a live one in detail. Covered in striking, rust-red fur with white under the tail and face stripes, this cat was officially named in 1874 on the basis of a skull and torn skin sent to England by the famous naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Naturalists didn’t have a chance to study a live one until a bay cat was captured in 1992, and the cat remains so difficult to find that researchers know very little about how this secretive cat actually lives. The fact that the cat is so difficult to find is all the more frustrating because conservationists list the felid as endangered. The deforestation of Borneo may wipe out the bay cat before scientists get a chance to find out more about it.

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