EUROPEAN WILDCAT: Felis silvestris, silvestris group

Wilcat pic5

Population Status
Global: Category 5c
Regional (Europe): Category 2
IUCN: Not Listed

Stahl and Artois (1991) carried out a comprehensive status survey, using questionnaires and an extensive literature review, and Figure 9 is based on their work. The authors have highlighted the importance of establishing data collection networks, and praised the results of such efforts in Scotland (Easterbee et al. 1991) and Hungary (Szemethy 1989). In Scotland, the method appeared to be sufficiently sensitive to detect relatively swift changes in the populations, as well as regional variation in status. However, Ragni (1993a) cautions against unhesitating acceptance of survey results, finding a high degree of error (39%) among experts (zoologists, natural history museum curators, hunters, veterinarians, game wardens and professional naturalists) asked to distinguish between specimens of European wildcat and domestic cat.

According to P. Stahl (in litt. 1992), changes and trends in distribution are not well documented in most countries (Albania, Greece, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, former Yugoslavia). In two countries, the species became extinct in the first half of the 20th century (Austria, Netherlands). In several West European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, United Kingdom), range expansion following World War II has been documented, although this expansion has now either halted, or continues at a very low rate. In these countries and in Italy, the range of the wildcat is generally considered stable, although local declines have been found in parts of Scotland (Easterbee et al. 1991). There seems to have been little change in wildcat populations in most East European countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania), except in the Czech and Slovak Republics, where they have declined (P. Hell in litt. 1993).

A marked decrease in historical range has taken place in most of the former Soviet Union (Bannikov and Sokolov 1984, Belousova 1993, Muntyanu et al. 1993, Puzachenko 1993a). Wildcat populations are now found in three major areas: the Carpathian mountains of Ukraine (Bondar 1987, Turyanin 1988); the Kodry region of Moldova (Montyanu et al. 1993); and the Caucasus mountain region between the Black and Caspian seas (Belousova 1993, Puzachenko 1993a). The broad-leaved forest habitat of the Ukrainian Carpathians has been reduced by three- or four-fold over the last century (Tatarinov 1983). These easternmost silvestris populations are important because the level of hybridization with domestic cats is considered to be quite low (Heptner and Sludskii 1972; see discussion under Principal Threats).

In north-eastern France, Artois (1985) found that wildcats used daily ranges of 0.3-3.3 km2. In the same study area, Stahl et al. (1988) found that seasonal home ranges of adult males were larger (5.7 + 2.6 km2; n=17) and more variable in size than those of females (1.8 + 0.5 km2; n=7). Resident male ranges overlapped 3-5 female ranges, but little overlap occurred between individuals of the same sex. In north-eastern Scotland, however, Corbett (1979) found that males and females had equivalent average monthly home ranges (1.75 km2), with little overlap. In Western Europe, densities of 3-5 animals per 10 km2 are reported from optimal forest habitats (review by Stahl and Leger 1992).

Stahl and Artois (1991) reviewed the results of several re-introduction attempts throughout Europe, and concluded that a long-term project run by the Bavarian Nature Conservancy Association in Germany was the best. BŁttner (in press) states that 237 (136m:101f) captive-bred individuals were released from 1984 to 1993. Although there has been evidence of population establishment and natural reproduction, released individuals suffered high mortality during their initial weeks in the wild (due mainly to road kills), and the survival rate was estimated at about 30%. Stahl (1993) is of the opinion that, given the risks of hybridization, re-introduction should not be considered a priority for wildcat conservation: efforts should instead focus on protecting and supplementing small isolated populations.

© 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union

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