All domestic cats that are alive in homes today can trace their ancestry to wild cats that still to this very day roam every landscape of the wild. There are three varying types of cats, which are:
- The African/Desert Cat
- The European Cat
- The Asian Steppe Wild Cat, also known as the Indian Desert or Asiatic Wild Cat.
Wild Cat Descriptions
Felis silvestris is the domesticated cat’s wild ancestor and it bears a similar resemblance to the domestic cats of today. Actually, domestic cats over the years have gone through a couple of changes since evolution made them split from their ancestors. These changes have caused issues when it comes to identifying the species and the numerous varying subspecies under it. The appearance of the wildcat varies all over its massive range and this has caused it to become a taxonomic debate subject.
Nevertheless, there are considered to be at the minimum of five varying subspecies namely:
- s. lybica, commonly known as the African wildcat
- Felis silvestris silvestris, the European wildcat
- s. biete, the Chinese alpine cat, F. s. ornata, the Asian wildcat
- s. cafra the Southern African wildcat.
- Sometimes the domesticated cat is referred to as an extra species labeled as Felis silvestris catus.
With a thick, long coat, a flat face, and a wide head, the European wildcat has an appearance that resembles that of a tabby, yet larger and with more muscle structure. Its overall body structure is compact, thanks to short legs, a short tail that is just over half the length of the rest of its body, and large ears.
Its coat is attractive with clear dark stripes along its back, head, limbs, and neck, while its dense blunt tail is covered in dark rings that form a black tip at the end. Felis silvestris grampia, also known as the Scottish wildcat is the heaviest and largest of all wildcat populations.
The African wildcat has a slender body with long legs and a longer tail than those of other subspecies. It has a unique walk that resembles that of a cheetah, thanks to its high shoulder blades, which also causes it to have an almost vertical sitting posture.
The African wildcat’s coat varies tremendously in range, with colors from red to grey, coupled with thick spotting which forms either stripes or bars. Nevertheless, a typical rich red-brown color behind the ears is ever-present. Normally, the drier the habitat, the paler the color, with more heavily stripped and spotted variations occurring in moist forested locations.
Southern African Wildcat
Formerly thought to be the same species as the African Wildcat, the Southern African Wildcat is now considered a different subspecies, even though it does have a comparable appearance to its close relative.
Typically, the Asian Wildcat is a pale yellow, it has been noticed to be yellowish-grey or reddish on occasions while being marked by small spots which create vertical lines on the flanks and the trunk. Its coat is typically short, however, it varies with location and age. On the tail is a little black tip, and on the tip of its ears are little tufts of hair.
Chinese Alpine Steppe Cat
The least known wildcat subspecies is actually the Chinese alpine steppe cat. It comes with dark brown longer guard hairs in a consistent light yellow-grey coat. Sometimes there are faint black stripes alongside the outer portion of its short limbs, coupled with two unique stripes on both cheeks, at the top and bottom of the eye. While it has dark brown tufts on its ears, the backs are yellow-grey. Three to four rings circle its quite small, black-tipped tail.
Where do Wildcats Live?
As an opportunistic and extremely adaptable species, wildcats can be found in just about every habitat in their range.
- Scrub grasslands
- Mixed and dry forests.
Still, it is surprisingly absent from tropical rainforests and cultivated areas and is sparsely spread in actual deserts.
European wildcats are more widespread and available in mixed or undisturbed broadleaved forests; however, they also appear present in:
- Mediterranean riparian forests
- along with coastal areas and outside marshes
Southern and African wildcats are present in every habitat except tropical forests and deserts. The Chinese alpine steppe cat is primarily spotted in alpine meadowlands, ranging in elevation from 2500 to 5000 meters, all on the eastern border of Tibet’s plateau. The Asian wildcat is usually linked with scrub desert all the way to places with elevations of around 3000 meters.
All over the majority of its habitat, the wildcat has been labeled as vermin and is a top predator of rabbits, grouse, and pheasant, causing gamekeepers to focus great efforts on exterminating them.
This species is also unintentionally caught in traps meant for foxes and wolves. However, there has been a decline in these activities, causing the major threat to wildcats to now be hybridization with domesticated cats.
These domesticated cats willingly crossbreed with wildcats, thereby contaminating the gene pool of the species, leaving a lower number of genetically unique wildcat populations.
Over 805 Scotland Wildcats may have bred with feral domesticated cats forming hybrids and causing as little as 400 genetically distinct wildcats to remain. Finding genetically distinct wildcat populations of Southern African and African wildcats has become increasingly challenging.
Hybridization is typically problematic in agricultural areas, especially as they are enticed by large rodent densities. Wildcats also have to compete with feral domestic cats for space and prey, causing a large probability of transmitting diseases such as feline leukemia virus.
Wildcats in the Near East and Europe are also endangered by habitat loss, road collisions, degradation, and fragmentation. In times past, Asian wildcats were frequently hunted and then traded for their luxuriously soft fur. This is evident with Indian traders exporting about 42,000 wildcat pelts back in 1979.
The least known subspecies of the wildcat, the Chinese Alpine Steppe Cat is so because it has an extremely limited range. Since 1958, there have been massive poisoning programs carried out in China, in a bid to control pika populations, which are considered to vie for grazing habitats with livestock.
Nonetheless, the chemicals used were found to also eradicate carnivores, raising fears it could adversely distress its rare wildcat populations.
As mainly nocturnal and adaptable carnivores, wildcats typically prey on rodents but are able to survive on a range of prey such as insects, frogs, and small birds.
Infrequently, however, it might take down large prey such as young antelopes/deer, hares, and rabbits. They mainly hunt on the ground, by moving quietly and slowly, listening and watching for prey signs.
Their hearing is very sensitive and they are able to detect even the slightest prey movements, coupled with great night vision considered to be 7x more effective than that of humans. Comparative to its weight, a wildcat is just as strong as any cat species, as it can reach a speed of about 30 miles. It brings its prey down with claws that are razor-sharp, killing them by suffocation or a lethal neck bite. Every part of the prey is eaten, including bone, feathers, and fur.
Wildcats are wary, solitary animals that are fiercely defensive of their territory. Males tend to have a larger territory than females.
The breeding season sees females sometimes venture out of their typical range for almost six days to locate a mate. The primary mode of communication is scent and feces that are left in obvious places like grass tussocks.
Urine is used as a territory border and is sprayed on trees. Females enter their estrous cycle a couple of times every year; however, it usually is just one litter consisting of anything from 3 to 6 kittens to be born.
The kittens are raised in either an abandoned rabbit warren, badger sett, fox den, or a specially created den amongst boulders and rocks. When born, the kittens are helpless and blind until about 7 or 12 days old when they open their eyes. They become mobile at about 4 weeks, which seems they venture out of the den.
Female wildcats bring live food to the kitten to teach them the vital skills required to kill prey. The kittens are weaned off of milk after about 6 or 7 weeks. They begin to accompany the female when she goes on hunting trips at about 10 weeks, causing them to learn independence and look to search for their very own territory at about 5 or 6 months old.
Both female and male wildcats breed when they are 1 year old, but males might not breed until they have their own territory.
Wildcats have the biggest range and varied habitat of any wild feline, with populations in:
- South Central
- West Asia.
In Europe, the wildcat has a habitat range from as north as Scotland all the way down to the southeastern part of Europe, including many Mediterranean islands.
Found in a majority of Africa, the African wildcat has a habitat that ranges from northern Africa, across the Sahara, on the eastern coast of Africa, evading true deserts and equatorial rainforests, to the Arabian Peninsula and the Caspian Sea.
The demarcation of ranges between the South African wildcat and this subspecies is unclear at the moment, but it has been considered to happen in the southeastern portion of the continent, around Mozambique and Tanzania. The Asian wildcat is present on the eastern border of the Caspian Sea, all the way to western India, southern Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and the western part of China, only to be substituted by the Chinese Alpine Steppe Cat.
Feral and wild cats
While domestic cats stay with humans and their existence is regulated by humans, wild and feral cats exist in wild locales, with little to no human influence.
Feral Cats: Independent Minded
Feral cats are cats that live in the wild after their ancestors were domesticated. Cats were domesticated years ago, however, many of them are on their own to be free from owners. These cats are feral. Feral cats typically live in colonies or pack near places humans reside.
Difference between feral and Stray Cats
Numerous people think the word feral to be synonymous with a stray cat. However, the fact is, stray cats were formerly domesticated and only live on the street as a result of abandonment. Sometimes stray cats wind up in feral cat colonies and then acquire some feral characteristics in a bid to survive.
Wildcats: Living in the wild
The word wild here means a species found to be in its natural environment. This natural ecosystem is referred to as wild. Natural habitats are places where no domesticated animals are present. Consequently, these animals are not privy to any form of human interaction their entire life. Wildcats have numerous differences when it comes to their features and habitats. Wildcats found in Africa, Europe, and Asia are typically the lynx or the ocelot. Wildcats have three categories, which are;
- Bush/Bay Wildcats
- Forest Wildcats
- Steppe Wildcats
Difference between feral and wild cats
Whereas wildcats are a portion of a natural biological cycle, feral cats were created as a result of either stray or feral cats. Furthermore, feral cats typically have a short life span of two years as a result of harsh urban environments. However, if they get care, they can survive for long. Feral cats are extremely territorial and fight to defend their territory.
Experts are of the opinion that there are varying stages of wildness, and feral cats fall on the least wild portion of the spectrum. Wildcats when born, have no restrictions, the principal difference between a wild and feral cat is their ability or inability to react with humans.
Wildcats tend not to respond positively to human interactions and feral cats to a lesser degree are the same. From Syria to the Kalahari, Asia to Uganda, there are numerous species of wildcats. Less researched are feral cats, but a clear definition of untamed wildlife makes them closer to their domesticated relatives than to wildcats.
That being said, the two are considered the cause of the decrease in avian wildlife. Both categories of cats require a natural environment teeming with resources to not only survive but also thrive.