The return of the wildcat in France

He had almost disappeared from French territory, persecuted because he was perceived as a demonic beast. But the wildcat is now getting his revenge and making up ground. We went to meet scientists looking for their tracks and trying to avoid love with domestic cats.

This article is taken from the monthly Sciences et Avenir – La Recherche n°907, September 2022.

Soon ten years of follow-up. For ten years Maxime Belaud, who works for the Nature in Occitanie association, has been traveling through the forest areas of Aude, Pyrénées-Orientales, Hérault, Aveyron and Tarn, in search of a small, very inconspicuous carnivore, the European wildcat or forest cat.

Genetically distinct from all of our domestic cats, Felis silvestris silvestris to return. And the good news is that the two populations that escaped the massacres of the 19th and 20th centuries are coming together. Lorraine cats will mix with those of the Pyrenees. “Soon, the range of the species will start from Spain to reach Germany, what is good for the genetic mixture “, greets Maxime Belaud.

If during a walk you come across this big cat (something rare since the animal flees from humans), you will recognize it by its gray to light tawny fur, the stripes on the sides, its black dorsal stripe throughout the body and a tail. bushy with two to four complete black rings and a black tip. But also its size: from 55 to 65 centimeters tall and weighing more than 5 kg for the male, 3.5 kg for the female.

The feral cat's coat (left), which has a single black dorsal stripe, has fewer lateral stripes than that of the domestic tabby cat (right).  Credit: CLAUDE POIVRE SKETCH - EXCERPT FROM B. CONDÉ, 1979

The feral cat’s coat (left), which has a single black dorsal stripe, has fewer lateral stripes than that of the domestic tabby cat (right). Credit: CLAUDE POIVRE SKETCH – EXCERPT FROM B. CONDÉ, 1979

The feral cat’s coat (left), which has a single black dorsal stripe, has fewer lateral stripes than that of the domestic tabby cat (right). Credit: CLAUDE POIVRE SKETCH – EXCERPT FROM B. CONDÉ, 1979

Where to see it? It prefers to frequent wooded areas, but may venture onto farmland if it is attracted to food. It feeds on field mice, rats, voles, rabbits, small birds and even squirrels, which it grabs by the front legs while sinking its fangs into the back of the neck. In winter, when game is lacking, it becomes a scavenger. Like our house cats, it grazes on grass to help it digest. “It is a way of life[…]

More information at sciencesetavenir.fr

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