The European wildcat is not a feral domestic cat, but an independent animal species that is not kept by humans. The shy cat is at home in the forests of Europe and is very difficult to find, even for the trained eye. In the profile, you will learn everything you should know about the wildcat.
The Appearance of the European Wildcat
The wild cat does not look very different from a gray tabby domestic cat. The dense fur is brownish-grey with a faded tiger pattern that fades with age. A characteristic dark line runs down the middle of the back – the dorsal line. Newly born kittens have even more markings. The most distinctive feature of the European wildcat is the thick, bushy tail with two to three dark rings and a conspicuously blunt, dark end. It has a white spot on its throat and its nose is always flesh-colored.
Other Wildcat Subspecies
The wild cat is a diverse species of a cat with numerous variations and subspecies that vary greatly in appearance and behavior. In addition to the European, there is the Asian wild cat or steppe cat with heavily mottled fur. In addition, the gray cat from the eastern edge of the Tibetan highlands is recognized as a separate subspecies. The African wildcat or wildcat has a pointed tail, reddish backsides of the ears, and an inconspicuous striped pattern. She is considered the direct ancestor of our domestic cats.
The wildcat prefers to live in deciduous and mixed forests with dense undergrowth. With a lot of luck, you can observe the shy forest dweller in clearings and forest meadows. The cats can also be at home along overgrown coasts, on the edge of swampy areas, or in riparian forests. The cats used to be at home all over Europe, but today they can only be found in Spain, Portugal, Scotland, Italy, the Balkans, eastern France to Belgium, and parts of western and central Germany.
Lifestyle and Behavior
European wildcats are solitary animals that occupy a very large territory compared to their body size. At 1,500 to 3,000 hectares, a tomcat’s hunting area is about as large as that of a red deer. The area usually includes several territories of female cats, which are significantly smaller at 300 to 800 hectares. The shy cats are active during the day in many places, but in densely populated areas they only leave the cover of the forest at night to hunt in the dark. Mice and other small rodents are primarily on their menu. However, they also hunt large insects, birds, and lizards on occasion. In the morning hours, the wild cats go to their sleeping places and often retreat into hollow tree trunks, piles of brushwood, or other dead wood.
Differences Between Wild and Domestic Cats
At first glance, a wild cat can hardly be distinguished from a domestic cat. The wild relatives are hardly larger, but appear a bit stronger due to their thick fur. The most important distinguishing feature is the thicker tail, which has fewer rings and a conspicuously blunt end. At three to eight kilograms, the forest dwellers are usually a little heavier than ordinary house cats. Theoretically, both species could even mate, but this hardly ever happens.
Due to the similarity of the two species, especially when they are young, they are often confused. Before you take kittens home from the forest that you think has been abandoned, you should have them checked by a veterinarian to see if they are wild cats after all. In this case, the kittens should be returned to the place where they were found immediately. Wild cats are also the only cats that are considered untamable and never lose their shyness even if they grow up in captivity. You need a special permit to keep them and you have to meet certain criteria. These include, for example, a cage of at least 10 m² and an outdoor enclosure.
Wildcats in Germany
In Germany today there are only about 6,000 to 10,000 free-living wild cats. Although they have been under species protection since 1934, they have been pushed back to a fraction of their former range in recent decades. Today, the shy forest dwellers can mainly be found in the national parks of the low mountain ranges. You can see the cats in the Harz Mountains, in Hesse and Thuringia, but also in the Eifel, in the Hunsrück, in the Palatinate Forest, and in the Taunus. About half of the German population lives in the Rhineland-Palatinate forests. With the help of the “Wildkatzensprung” project, the forests in Germany are linked by so-called “green corridors”. To this end, the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation is planting trees and bushes where former connecting routes have been lost due to intensive agriculture, roads, or settlements.