Species profile

Name: there are two closely related species of wildcat – the European wildcat (Felis silvestris) and the African wildcat (Felis lybica). During the Agricultural Revolution, African wildcats were attracted to the large numbers of rodents in the grain stores of early farmers. Over time wildcats were tamed and domesticated leading to Felis catus – the domestic cat.

Appearance: the two wildcat species differ in fur, tail, and size. The European wildcat has long fur and a bushy tail with a rounded tip, while the smaller African wildcat is more faintly striped, has short sandy-grey fur, and a tapering tail.

Size: both wildcat species are larger than the domestic cat, typically measuring around 60 to 130 cm long and weighing around 5-8 kg. The size of individual wildcats varies according to where they live – with the largest living in the colder, northern parts of Europe.

Diet: the European wildcat feeds on small birds and mammals such as rabbits, mice, ducks, and pigeons, while the African wildcat prefers rodents.

Did you know: the wildcat has been categorised as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List since 2002 with a global population of around 20,000 individuals. However, in some countries both wildcat species are highly threatened. In the UK, the Scottish wildcat – a subspecies of European wildcat – is the UK’s only remaining cat. Once widespread across the UK, they are now restricted to northern Scotland. This is due to a combination of habitat loss, hunting, and interbreeding with domestic cats. It’s estimated that there may only be around 30 to 430 individuals left. Making it one of the rarest cats in the world. 

Location: the European wildcat lives in forests across Europe and the Caucasus, while the African wildcat prefers semi-arid landscapes and steppes in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia, into western India and western China.

Where to see wildcats

According to reports submitted to WildSide, you can see wildcats in the following places:

Place Chance to see User rating No. reports
South Africa
very low
very good
Loch Ness
very low
very good

Photo credit: Tambako The Jaguar under a Creative Commons license from Flickr

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