Science - April 29, 2010

'Wild' cat is probably tame

The dead cat found in the Vijlen in Limburg last week is probably not a true wild cat. It seems to be a cross between a domestic cat and a wild one.

This is the conclusion drawn by Hugh Jansman, animal ecologist at Alterra. The cat was sent to Wageningen for dissection to determine its true identity. 'Its external features are partly typical of a domestic cat and partly those of a wild cat', says Jansman. 'The short, stunted tail with black rings around it, and the lack of clear black stripes are clear characteristics of a wild cat.' The sheer size of this young tomcat also suggests that it is not a pure domestic breed, but has some wild cat genes too. On the other hand, the entirely black paws and the lack of a black stripe down the back are evidence against it being a wild cat. Its intestines are about two metres long, too, and that is too long for a true wild cat. Be that as it may, the domestic cat's wild cousin seems to be making a cautious comeback in the Netherlands. Three years ago, a true wild cat was captured on camera in South Limburg using a so-called photo trap.
A perfect habitat
According to Jansman, the wild cat is doing well in Europe. 'Over the past decade this species has spread spectacularly in the German Eiffel region. There are plenty of extensively managed grassland is there, and they are full of mice', explains Jansman. 'These animals are slowly but surely moving towards the Netherlands, with the young males who are looking for their own territory taking the lead.'
The specimen on the dissection table doesn't seem to fit the bill, however. 'We are not convinced that it is a wild cat; for now we'll stick to calling it a hybrid', Jansman decides. In a few weeks' time, skull measurements and a DNA analysis will provide conclusive evidence as to whether this is a wild cat or a partially tame one.