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A few years ago, cycling in a very remote forest, close to the tiny town of Espoya. Town next to Capellades, in the province of Barcelona, I ran into a corner of a stony path with a wildcat perched on a thick old tree.
I hope that the big cat was scared as much as I am, that I suppose I lost some months of life as a result of the scare that I took.
Looking at him in photographs or evoking his distant memory sitting on the sofa at home, I see a beautiful and powerful animal. However, to find it with a bump four or five meters away and above your head, I assure you it is a somewhat spooky experience. That icy look still shakes me.
In that instant I didn't know how to appreciate her undoubted beauty. The saying goes: "Things are, depending on the glass through which you look."
Wildcat species in Spain
In Spain there are three varieties of wildcat:
In the north and Mediterranean area of the Iberian Peninsula are the specimens of the Felis silvestris silvestris, This is the typical variety of Mediterranean forest.
Its specimens are distributed more densely by the Cantabrian Cornice and the Pyrenees. In these places it inhabits deciduous forests and alpine rocks. They feed mainly on birds and wild rodents. In the Mediterranean slope the population of wild cats is smaller, due to the greater human density.
The wildcat of the downtown area
The wildcat that inhabits the central area of the Iberian Peninsula is the subspecies Felis silvestris tartessia.
This wildcat is larger in size and fur darker than the peripheral wildcat. Perhaps it is because this cat integrates the rabbit into its diet. The banks of the Duero River and the Tagus River are areas with high density of said subspecies. There are also important colonies in Andalusia.
The wildcat in Mallorca
On the island of Mallorca there is the subspecies of wildcat known as Felis lybica jordansi. This subspecies comes from the African wildcat.
its size is smaller than that of the two previous subspecies although not less beautiful. We can highlight that its color is lighter, with sandy tones in its fur, which is shorter.
Status of the wildcat in Spain
It's wild cat It is a threatened species in Spain. Agriculture and the expansion of rural areas make life difficult for wildcats. While it is true that occasionally they mate with domestic cat females, after which they create hybrids.
exist wildcat protection programs, considered as fauna of special interest. We must be clear that it is of utmost importance to care for and respect the species so that in the future we can continue to enjoy it.
If you want to read more articles similar to Wildcat distribution in Spain, we recommend that you enter our Curiosities section of the animal world.
The wildcat is the predecessor of domestic cats that currently share our homes with us. It is a wild feline, a feral carnivorous mammal that is dispersed by forests of Africa, America, Asia and Europe. In some places, the destruction of their habitats and other factors have caused that species to be threatened, being included in the list of endangered species.
Within the category of wildcat we find Various species, which are spread throughout the world, being Felis Silvestris or European wild cat the denomination for the species that we found in Eurasia. This wildcat is quite similar to a domestic cat, but of a larger size and lynx-like. The North American species is called Lynx rufus and we find it in the territory from southern Canada to southern Mexico. His South American relative is the Leopardus geoffroyi or geoffroy, also in South America we find the Leopardus colocolo or cat of the grasslands.
Now, focusing on the origin of the wildcat in general, we can say that his ancestor is the wildcat of Mastelli (Felis lunensis), which lived in Europe during the Pliocena, expanding first through the Middle East and then to Asia and Africa, giving rise to the steppe wildcat more than 10,000 years ago.
Currently, in Spain they are distinguished three subspecies:
- Felis silvestris silvestris, located in the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula.
- Felis lybica jordansi, which would be the African wildcat and we would find it on the island of Mallorca.
- Felis silvestris tartessia, which is of a larger size and darker coat than its peers and would extend through the central and southern part of the peninsular territory.
Physical characteristics of the wildcat
When talking about the characteristics of the wildcat, it should be noted that its appearance is practically same as the Iberian lynx, being usually impossible to distinguish them except for the smaller size of wild cats. Even the existence of hybrids between these two species has been recorded.
Thus, the wildcat presents a gray-brown fur, with brindle or mottled pattern. Said hair is thick, dense, of medium length and satin appearance. Its tail is elongated With the round tip. And their characteristics ears are big and pointed, usually with reddish bottom.
The body of the mountains is muscular and robust while stylized and flexible. Due to its large size, the wild cat is considered a giant cat, weighing up to 8 kilograms and measuring from 5 to 120 cm high. Their life expectancy is usually 6 to 12 years, with specimens that have reached 14 years.
Being a wild animal is a lonely and quiet feline but that it can be aggressive if its life is threatened or when it is hunting, since its sustenance is at stake. In addition, the wildcat is an animal territorial, who will not hesitate to defend their habitat, especially males, who will also mark their territory with scratches and urine, which they will only share with females and not with other males.
Except in the winter season, the wildcat is a nocturnal animal that hunts and is active during the hours after sunset. However, when it is the cold season it adapts to the hours of activity of its prey, becoming a diurnal animal for a few months. This detail of his personality lets us see that he is an animal that easily adapts to new media and ways of life, that is why there are specimens that have become pets of families around the world. Of course, remember that the character of the wildcat is not like that of a domestic cat, so that its natural aggressive temperament can arise whenever it feels threatened.
Food and necess>
In its natural habitat, conformed by wooded areas Relatively isolated from urban centers and human populations distributed throughout Europe, the wild cat adapts its life in scrubland, deciduous forests and more lush areas in the northern region of the continent. In Spain it is scattered throughout the peninsula and the Balearic Islands.
In the wild these animals feed on the prey they hunt themselves. Usually the wild cat feeding It is based on rabbits, hares and other rodents, although their prey is varied and even deer can be among them. If food is scarce, wildcats can become scavengers, feeding on the remains of other animals. Remember that they are animals with a great capacity for adaptation.
He wild cat reproductive cycle It presents several phases. The period of heat usually covers from February to March, taking into account pregnancy, which lasts between 60 and 70 days. In this way, cats would give birth from April to May litters that are usually about three puppies on average. The females are in charge of the care of the young, who will be in charge of the offspring until approximately 9 months of age.
Since they are not pets, to have a wildcat as a pet you must be up to date with the current legislature in our area. Likewise, normally in case of being able to have it must be with the relevant licenses and documentation in order, as well as being wild cats are in danger of extinction, like other big cats, so hunting is completely prohibited, have to respect their habitat and try to avoid ending their prey, which will be vital for their survival.
Formerly its main predators were animals like the wolf and the puma, but today the greatest danger for the subsistence of the wildcat is the human, which with the destruction of their habitat and hunting has made the wild cat populations have been considerably depleted. Therefore, since we humans are largely guilty, we have the responsibility to take measures in this regard, so, in this article intended to explain "How to protect animals in danger of extinction?" We are provided with a series of actions that we can take or avoid, in case such actions may be harmful, to protect this and other threatened species.
Normally wildcats they are very resistant animals, but as can happen with domestic felines, they can be affected by feline coronavirus, parvovirosis, feline leukemia, distemper and conditions caused by parasites, which are usually spread by the rodents they feed on, or from the environment in who live Also, being a wild animal, we must not forget the deaths due to natural causes or fights between wildcats, which can cause serious infections and hemorrhages.
We take this opportunity to highlight the importance of going to professionals in case of find a wounded wildcat or sick In such cases, it is recommended call the authorities, contact forest guards or go directly to wildlife recovery centers to notify the finding and let them take care of the animal's health.
With small differences, each of the subspecies share most of the characteristics that distinguish them from other cat breeds.
The color of their fur is grayish, with a brown tone that makes them easily distinguishable. They also have dark stripes that cover almost all of your body, except the belly.
Its tail is very elongated with a rounded black tip and with at least three black rings closed along it. It has large and pointed ears.
The wild cat's body is robust and muscular, with a dimension that makes it considered one of the largest species, being able to weigh between 4 and 12 kilos and measure up to 125 cm in height. In addition, the male is larger than the female, with a difference between 15 and 25%.
Their eyes are usually greenish or amber, with a vertical pupil and, generally, their life expectancy is between 6 and 12 years, with some cases in which they reached 15 years of age.
Domestic Wildcat Behavior
Being a wild species, its attitude is calm and lonely and dodges due to its great capacity for survival. You can avoid human company by considering yourself in danger, being able to attack if you see that your integrity is threatened.
The wildcat is a great hunter of rabbits, rodents and birds, which account for much of their food. His method to achieve this is to base his movements on the most discreet stealth, waiting for his target to be within reach to attack.
Its territorial character causes it to scratch or urinate to defend its habitat, which, in the case of males, will only share with other females.
It is a nocturnal animal, which acts in the most untimely moments to avoid human presence although it is able to adapt to the environment since in winter it can leave during daytime to hunt some prey more easily.
As for where the wild cat lives, its presence is distributed, above all, by the forests of Spain, France, Germany and Italy, although it can be adopted as a companion animal, always keeping in mind the aspects of its behavior already mentioned.
Main diseases of the Wildcat
Feline coronavirus is the greatest threat of wild cats in the form of disease, as well as other pathologies such as feline leukemia, distemper or parvovirosis. They can also get conditions from the rodents they feed on or the environment in which they move.
However, it should also be noted that, since it is a wild species, it can be affected by injuries when struggling with other cats or animals of different species, which can cause injuries that aggravate their state of health.
Basic care of the Wildcat
By having a wild character, the wildcat bases its basic care and survival on its own decisions.
Its natural habitat consists of areas with thickets, deciduous forests and humid areas in the north of the territory.
Therefore, we must emphasize that their feeding in the wild is basically that which they manage to hunt: hares, rabbits or birds. As we have mentioned before, they are animals capable of adapting to the different circumstances that may arise, so that what the wild cat eats will adjust at all times to its changing environment.
As for its reproduction, it usually occurs in the first months of the year, so, females usually give birth in April or May in tree hollows or litter burrows that generally consist of 3 or 4 puppies.
The sexual maturity of the wild cat is reached at 10 months of age, after becoming independent from the mother's care a few weeks before.
In search of their subsistence in the natural environment, the human being plays a fundamental role, trying to avoid ending their habitat to guarantee it.
If you decide to adopt a wildcat, you have to take into account many bureaucratic aspects to carry it out, since its possession requires a series of licenses and documentation as it is a wild and endangered animal. Apart from these procedures, you have to be patient with him in his adaptation to the home environment and provide him with the greatest care that a domestic cat requires for his comfort.
Curiosities of the wildcat
- It is likely that you are not aware of both the physical and character similarity of the wildcat with the Iberian lynx: they are only smaller than the first but they have general characteristics that resemble that species, also in danger of extinction.
- Although the difference in size does not seem credible, the truth is that the wildcat has great ability to hunt older animals, such as deer. This species is found in a timely manner in its food diet.
If you decide to get a wild cat, it is an option used among cat lovers for its unique character, although you must take into account the documentation that you must prepare to have everything in order and enjoy your company's peace of mind.
Characteristics and identification of the wildcat
This wild cat is similar to the domestic cat and, although it is larger, reminds of large cat breeds for its robustness, capable of weighing seven kilos. In addition, the head in relation to the body is larger in the wildcat than in the domestic one, with slightly smaller ears.
They have a yellowish brown color on the back of the ears and snout, while the hairs on the eyes and the vibrisas are larger and wider than those of the domestic, white and slightly droopy. The eyes are not as variable colors as the domestic cat and often have light green and amber tones, its nose is pink.
They present several quite remarkable drawings, usually in the form of stripes: the WildcatIt has two stripes on the cheeks that are born in the eyes, several stripes that come out of the neck, dark striped on legs and trunk, and several rings on the tail that ends in black. Normally, they also have a dorsal line that runs along their spine, and sometimes a white spot on the chest.
The wildcat can hybridize with the domestic cat, so its hybrids can lead to confusion and endanger the purity of the species. That is why domestic cats without neutering pose a drag on their recovery.
He Wildcat or lynx(Lynx rufus) It is a medium-sized feline that weighs between 5 and 12 kg. The coloration of the upper part of your body can vary from a grayish color to a reddish brown, and in most cases it has spots in the form of tostones.
The belly and its lower parts are always a lighter color than the rest of the body. In Florida, United States, individuals have been found melancholy, that is, they are totally black. The characteristics that define the members of this genre are: its short tail, approximately 15 cm long, and the hair extension as a brush on the top of its ears.
Apparently, the latter serves to capture more precisely where their prey is. Unlike other wild cats, it is common to observe these cats sitting on the side of a path or sidewalk for a long time, to try to locate possible prey through their acute auditory sense.
This nocturnal predator can be seen in grassland areas at sunset and sunrise. They are solitary animals, which in the case of males cover several kilometers moving day after day, while females are territorial and remain in the same place, something reminiscent of the behavior of some big cats.
Their food is mainly based on small rodents and birds, although they are capable of hunting rabbits, and sometimes they can feed on amphibians or some invertebrates. Even There are records of how the wildcat can hunt roe deer, something that sets it apart from its domestic relative.
Despite this big difference, the truth is that the wildcat hunts very similarly to the domestic cat, and it is even difficult to differentiate the remains of their prey from those of this animal, because it also leaves the bones of medium-sized animals, unlike other carnivores such as the red fox.
As for the reproduction, the wild cat mates at the beginning of spring and the young are born at the end of this or already in summer. It will be the female who takes care of the litter, usually four small cats that will live with their mother for about five months.
How do you feed the wildcat?
The diet of the wildcat is mainly composed of lagomorphs (rabbits and hares) and rodents, although sometimes it ventures to hunt larger animals, such as young White-tailed deer and those of collar peccary.
The ecological function of this cat in controlling rodent and lagomorph populations is of paramount importance, both for the ecosystem and for farmers and ranchers, although sometimes they do not understand it.
Although it is mostly considered as a nocturnal carnivore, the wildcat is, however, one of the American felines with the most daytime activity. Therefore, it is not uncommon to observe it active both in the morning and at sunset.
its distribution range It goes from southern Canada to the central part of Mexico. He likes to live in scrubland and in desert places, although it can also be found in regions with pine and oak forest. It is very rare to find populations of these cats in places where the forest is dense, since it prefers more open land.
This is one of the causes for which he does not live in the Mexican tropics, nor in southern Mexico or in Central America. The life of wild cats is lonely and can only be seen as a couple during the mating season.
Wildcat habitat and conservation
The European wildcat inhabits the forests of much of Europe: Its distribution includes the forests of much of Spain, but also of France, Germany, Scotland, Turkey or Italy. However, the wildcat does not appear in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland or the Scandinavian Peninsula.
Before they were much more abundant, but it seems that The use of poisons and pesticides, in addition to the human control of voles and other rodents, has made the wildcat a scarce animal. As we mentioned, hybridization with feral domestic cats is compromising the genetics of the species, and that is that the wildcat is a great pest controller, as is the owl.
The wild cat thus becomes one of the last wild cats in Europe, along with the various species of lynx that inhabit this continent, is the last representative of the fierce cats that once dominated these regions.
Graduated in Veterinary by University of Leon (2018). Specialization in Biology and Primate Behavior (Wildlife Biology) by the Girona University.
He has participated in different courses and conferences:
- XVIII AVAFES-Zaragoza Conference on Primatology of the Association AVAFES-Zaragoza (2014-2015).
- VI Cycle of Conferences of the Exotic and Wild Fauna of the Association AVAFES-León (2014-2015).
- International Days of Wildlife Pathology organized by the AVAFES León Association (May 2016).
- X Theoretical-Practical Course of Primatology: the Communication in Primates at Rainfer Primate Rescue Center (April, 2017).
- III Course of Hurones Clinic of the AVAFES-León Association (2014-2015).
- Course "Biodiversity Crisis, conservation and threatened species ”of La Jurbial Environmental Services and University of León.
- Course "Wildlife Animal Welfare in Captivity”Organized by Avafes León (February 2017).
- MOOC course of “Environmental Challenges in a changing world" of the university of Navarra (December 2016).
- MOOC course of “Cognition and canine emotion" of the Duke University (February 2017).
- MOOC course of “Introduction to Conservation" from United for Wildlife (2015).
Eugenio Fernández Suárez is veterinarian with experience in wildlife management and with special emphasis on primates. He has collaborated with various sanctuaries and reception centers of fauna in Spain, and has special interest in the animal behavior, animal welfare and both scientific and environmental dissemination, through various projects. Volunteer inThe Forest Zoo (Oviedo).
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How is its reproduction?
They have reported offspring of these cats throughout the year but, in Mexico, it is in the summer when you have news of the largest number of litters, formed from one to five puppies.
The young live with their parent until they reach one year of age, after this period the puppies are expelled by their mother from their territory and begin a wandering life that, in the case of young males, becomes a difficult test, because for Settling in an area and creating your range of action is necessary to displace another adult male.
The space needs (home environment) that the wild cat requires to survive are very variable. The studies conducted differ in reported values ranging from 200 to more than 30 thousand hectares, depending on the availability of habitat, dams and other factors.
In the study we carried out in Tamaulipas, we found household size sizes from one thousand to 2,000 hectares on average. Between the six types of cats that live in Mexico - Jaguar, Jaguarundi, Ocelot, Margay, Puma and Wildcat - the latter is considered the least threatened.
It is still possible to hunt it with a special permit and although at some time his skin had commercial value, due to the climatic conditions of our country, it is not entirely appropriate for the fur. Actually it happens that he is hunted as soon as he is discovered, in the mistaken belief that it represents a threat to domestic animals. However, the damage that this cat could cause to cattle is very sporadic.
The main enemy of the wildcat: the human being
In rural communities where they still exist, stories are frequent where the wildcat appears as a bloodthirsty villain, especially this happens among sheep herders. They say that this animal is not satisfied with attacking a single sheep, but can kill several of them in one night.
However, when I inquired about it, I could never find true indications that this happened repeatedly, or even that it ever happened. Also in some rural communities it is believed that this cat has medicinal properties, so they are hunted indiscriminately.
Such behavior of man has led to the wild cat not being abundant in the places where he lives. Remembering that in Mexico this cat finds its southern distribution limit, it is necessary to establish measures to protect its current condition in the wild.
In search of the wild cat
I was in the northern part of the state of Tamaulipas following a female from Wildcat to which we had placed a radio transmitter in the neck. This in order to measure their movements in the wild.
Because the device was not working properly, that afternoon I decided to locate it and, if possible, observe it, to be sure that it was in perfect health.
The first thing I did was look for her in the place she likes best to rest: a grove of huizaches surrounded by a meadow of salted grass. Although the signal transmitted by his radio was quite weak, I was able to locate it and, apparently, it was inside the forest.
I got out of the truck. Then I walked slowly and quietly through the grass until I reached about 40 meters. As I approached, the signal grew stronger, but the pulses indicated that the female was not active. Then I began to make a sound with my lips similar to the roar's alarm shrieks.
Suddenly, I began to hear on my radio receiver that the mountain cat was active and was rapidly approaching in my direction. The signal was increasingly powerful, so I turned off my receiver and, while still making the rodent sound, I started looking for it with the lens of my camera. That was when, without warning, I could see that ear behind a mogote de zacate just five meters from where I was.
A lucky encounter
At first I thought it was a dry leaf, but when I saw that it was moving from back to front I got alert and when I focused my lens in that position, I discovered the eye looking at myself between the blades of grass. I couldn't help thinking that what I was seeing could have been the last vision of many prairie animals before they died violently in the claws of this cat.
While continuing to make rodent noise, the female began to move her head out of the mogote until it was completely exposed. His gaze was puzzling because, although he saw me, I could not identify what kind of living being I was because the camera completely covered my face. Knowing in advance that these felines, if they are not cornered or injured, are totally harmless to man, his astonishment caused me great hilarity, because where the cat hoped to find an injured animal, there was something that, in his opinion, "had no head".
I started to lower the camera slowly and I could see that his eyes were opening wide, he discovered me and realized what was happening. Then, while observing me, he began to retreat very slowly, step by step, until he hid behind the mogote. As soon as he felt that he was out of my sight he ran away, and with three long jumps he reached the edge of the grove where he disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.