Felis silvestris 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Felidae

Scientific Name: Felis silvestris Schreber, 1777
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Wild Cat, Wildcat
French Chat orné, Chat sauvage
Spanish Gato Montés, Gato Silvestre
Taxonomic Notes: There is still no clear consensus in how to relate geographical variation in the morphology and genetics of the globally widespread Wildcat Felis silvestris to its taxonomy and systematics (Kitchener and Rees 2009). The latest phylogeographical analysis (Driscoll et al. 2007, Macdonald et al. 2010) suggests that the Wildcat consists of five subspecific groups, including three traditional subspecies (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Stuart et al. 2013): the African Wildcat (F. s. lybica Forster, 1780), the Asian Wildcat (F. s. ornata Gray, 1830), and the European Wildcat (F. s. silvestris Schreber, 1775), with the additional recent recognition of the Southern African Wildcat (F. s. cafra Desmarest, 1822) and the incorporation of the Chinese Alpine Steppe Cat into the species (F. s. bieti Milne-Edwards, 1872). An alternative taxonomic treatment could be the treatment of F. bieti, F. silvestris, and F. lybica (including ornata and cafra as subspecies) as three recently radiated phylogenetic species (Kitchener and Rees 2009, Macdonald et al. 2010). The species concept used here, excludes F. bietei - this is assessed separately as a good species.

The familiar housecat was domesticated from the Wildcat (F. s. lybica), probably 9-10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent region of the Near East, coincident with the rise of agriculture and the need to protect harvests from grain-eating rodents, based on genetic, morphological and archaeological evidence (Driscoll et al. 2007, Macdonald et al. 2010). Although derived from the Wildcat relatively recently, for practical reasons the domestic cat is differentiated either as a separate species F. catus or subspecies F. s. catus. As noted by Macdonald et al. (2010), in terms of biological processes and phylogeny, whether domestic cats are treated as a subspecies of F. silvestris or a separate species might seem arbitrary. However, these taxonomic niceties are of the highest operational importance because the current legislation intended to protect the Wildcat is framed in terms that can be effective only if the Wildcat is recognized as a separate species. Domestics are different than other 'forms' of animals and arise through an unusual set of circumstances (i.e., proximity and familiarity with people). While the genetic relationship between domestic and wildcats is very close, Driscoll et al. (2007) did find evidence for a genetically distinct group of cats that corresponds to 'domestics'.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2014-04-20
Assessor(s): Yamaguchi, N., Kitchener, A., Driscoll, C. & Nussberger, B.
Reviewer(s): Nowell, K., Hunter, L., Mallon, D., Hoffmann, M., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Lanz, T. & Breitenmoser, U.

The Wild Cat is the most common and widely distributed wild felid, and thus listed as Least Concern. However, introgressive hybridization with domestic cats is considered extensive, and taking place across almost the entire range, potentially resulting in cryptic extirpations of some populations (Nowell and Jackson 1996; Macdonald et al. 2004, 2010; Driscoll et al. 2007, 2011). Although detailed information concerning introgression is not available for most parts of its distribution, based on less biased samplings, local introgression rate is estimated  20% in Swiss Jura (Nussberger et al. 2014), 36% in France (Say et al. 2012), and 43% in west Germany (Hertwig et al. 2009), and 46% of wild-living cats in France may belong to a non-Wild Cat group (Say et al. 2012), whilst the figure may be as high as 88% in Scotland (Kitchener et al. 2005). However, introgression may be evaluated differently in each of these studies, making comparisons problematic. Even less information is available to assess temporal changes in introgression rates. Future research on hybridization levels and fitness consequences of introgression may warrant a reassessment of the Wild Cat as a threatened species, owing to population declines of the Wild Cat.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The Wild Cat has a very broad distribution, found throughout most of Africa, Europe, and southwest and central Asia into India, China, and Mongolia. Four major intraspecific phylogenetic groups, or subspecies (following Driscoll et al. 2007, Macdonald et al. 2010) are distributed as follows:

Steppe Wild Cat Lineage
The African Wild Cat F. s. lybica occurs across northern Africa and extends around the periphery of the Arabian Peninsula to the Caspian Sea (Driscoll et al. 2007), where it meets, and/or hybridizes with, the Asian Wild Cat (Harrison and Bates 1991, Heptner and Sludskii 1992). This extremely wide distributional range is accompanied by a very broad habitat tolerance, being apparently only absent from closed tropical forest. Although thinly distributed in true deserts, such as the Sahara, it occurs especially in association with hill and mountain country, such as the Hoggar. In North Africa it occurs discontinuously from Morocco through Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and into Egypt. It has an extensive distribution across the savannas of West Africa from Mauritania on the Atlantic seaboard, eastwards to the Horn of Africa, Sudan and Ethiopia; southwards it is present in all East and southern African countries (Stuart et al. 2013), where it is replaced by the Southern African Wild Cat F.s. cafra (Driscoll et al. 2007). At present the boundary between the two cannot be determined by available genetic samples, but morphological and biogeographical evidence suggests the break to occur in the southeast, in the area of Tanzania and Mozambique (Kitchener and Rees 2009). The Asian Wild Cat F. s. ornata occurs from the eastern Caspian into western India, and north to Kazakhstan, and into western China and southern Mongolia (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Driscoll et al. 2007).

Forest Wild Cat Lineage
The European Wild Cat F. s. silvestris was formerly very widely distributed in Europe and is absent only from Fennoscandia. Severe declines and local extirpations occurred in Europe between the late 1700s and mid-1900s, resulting in a fragmented relict distribution (Stahl and Artois 1991, Nowell and Jackson 1996, Piechocki 2001). It became extinct in the Netherlands, but may be recently expanding its range from neighbouring countries to recolonize the country (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Canters et al. 2005). It was considered regionally extinct in Austria (Spitzenberger 2005), but vagrants still occur and the Italian population is spreading northwards into Austria (Lapini and Molinari 2006). It is possibly extinct in the Czech Republic (IUCN 2007). It occurs from sea level to 2,250 m in the Pyrenees (Palomo and Gisbert 2002). In some parts of the Wild Cat's distribution (e.g. Scotland, Stromberg in Germany) it is possible that, as a result of hybridization with the domestic cat, very few Wild Cats remain (Macdonald et al. 2004, Battersby 2005, Herrmann and Vogel 2005). Sicily  is the only Mediterranean island populated by European Wild Cats; populations on other islands (including Sardinia and Corsica) are probably feral domestics stemming from Neolithic times (Gippoliti and Amori 2006, Macdonald et al. 2010, T. Viago in litt. 2009, Mattucci et al. 2013).
Countries occurrence:
Afghanistan; Albania; Algeria; Andorra; Angola; Armenia; Austria; Azerbaijan; Belarus; Belgium; Benin; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Botswana; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; China; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Croatia; Djibouti; Egypt; Eritrea; Ethiopia; France; Gambia; Georgia; Germany; Ghana; Gibraltar; Greece; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Hungary; India; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Iraq; Israel; Italy; Jordan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Kuwait; Kyrgyzstan; Latvia; Lebanon; Lesotho; Libya; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of; Malawi; Mali; Mauritania; Moldova; Mongolia; Montenegro; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Oman; Pakistan; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russian Federation; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Serbia; Sierra Leone; Slovakia; Slovenia; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Spain; Sudan; Swaziland; Switzerland; Syrian Arab Republic; Tajikistan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Togo; Tunisia; Turkey; Turkmenistan; Uganda; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; Uzbekistan; Western Sahara; Yemen; Zambia; Zimbabwe
Possibly extinct:
Czech Republic
Regionally extinct:
Additional data:
Upper elevation limit (metres):2250
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


The world's population of domestic cats, Felis catus, was estimated as c. 600 million (Baker et al. 2010), making the domesticated descendant of Felis silvestris one of the world's most numerous animals. However, domestic cats hybridise readily with Wildcats, and genetic analysis of “wildcat” samples found that most populations showed evidence of hybridisation (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Driscoll et al. 2007). There are probably very few, if any, “wildcat” populations which have little history of hybridisation with domestic cats. This introgression with domestic cats makes an estimation of Wildcat population size very difficult even in comparison to other similarly elusive wild felids. Morphological criteria and genetic markers have been developed that should help to resolve these problems (Schauenberg 1969, 1977, Randi and Ragni 1986, 1991, French et al. 1988, Beaumont et al. 2001, Reig et al. 2001, Pierpaoli  et al. 2003, Yamaguchi et al. 2004a,b, Kitchener et al. 2005, Driscoll et al. 2007, 2011, Platz et al. 2011, Nussberger et al. 2013, 2014, Devillard et al. 2014).

In the Near East region, Wildcats occur at low population densities, and are threatened by habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation as well as hybridisation with domestic cats (Phelan and Sliwa 2006).

Most detailed population information is available about the European subspecies, F.s. silvestris, although there is still a lack of information regarding its current status and population trends. There have been no recent large-scale surveys or European regional reviews of the status of the species (Macdonald et al. 2004). During the European Mammal Assessment process (IUCN 2007), information (ranging from detailed national surveys to expert opinion) was collated for a number of European range states and is presented below, but this is by no means a comprehensive review. A review of the status of the Wildcat in Europe in the 1980s and early-mid 1990s can be found in Stahl and Artois (1991) and Nowell and Jackson (1996).

Scotland (UK): Recent estimates have varied between 1,000 and 4,000 (compared to 1.2 million feral cats in Britain), but as few as 400 cats which meet morphological and genetic criteria for being the furthest from the domestic group may survive (Macdonald et al. 2004, Battersby 2005, Kitchener et al. 2005, Macdonald et al. 2010). If so, this population would be Critically Endangered (Kitchener et al. 2005). A survey of mostly sightings from 2006-2008 confirmed that the overall distribution had changed little from the late 1980s, with most frequent sightings in eastern and central Scotland and a small area of the West (Davis and Gray, 2010).

Portugal: The population is suspected to be decreasing (M. Fernandes pers. comm. 2006). Considered Vulnerable at the national level, on the basis of suspected declines reaching 30% over three generations in the past or future (Cabral et al. 2005).
Spain: In some places it is increasing and others decreasing (J. Herrero pers. comm. 2006). Considered Vulnerable at the national level, on the basis of suspected declines of over 30% over the last three generations (Palomo and Gisbert 2002).
Belgium: Evidence from Wildcats found dead on roads indicated that the species is gradually expanding its range to the north and west. There are no data on population size (Libois 2006).
Germany: The population was recently estimated at 1,700-5,000 individuals (Knapp et al. 2000). The population may be increasing and occupying new areas (M. Stubbe pers. comm. 2006, Hartmann et al. 2013).

France: The presence of Wildcats was confirmed in an area of c. 155,000 km2 in the north-eastern quarter of France and around the Pyrenees, but these two areas are separated by a wide zone with no wildcats (Say et al. 2012). Wildcats may have extended their range in France by c. 30% in the last 30 years, although a cautious interpretation is necessary (Say et al. 2012).

Switzerland: Based on a systematic survey, about 220-1300 km2 of the Swiss Jura region are occupied by about 160-930 wildcats (95% CI, Swiss Wildcat Monitoring 2008-10, Federal Office of Environment). Since 1970, wildcats have extended their range to the South-West and East of the Jura (ref. within Nussberger et al. 2014).

Italy: The population densities on Sicily based on camera trapping are 0.28 – 0.93 individuals per km2, whilst an estimate based on individual identification using DNA extracted from scats estimated 1.36 individuals per km2 (Anile et al. 2010, 2012, 2014).    
Slovenia: The population is estimated (on the basis of population density and habitat suitability) at no more than 2,000; it is stable. Recently expanded highways possibly pose some threat in the South-East part of its high population density range. (B. Krytufek pers. comm. 2006)
Poland: Estimated number of wildcats in Poland is between 100 and 150 individuals and estimated population density is 1-1.3 per 1000 ha (Okarma et al. 2002). The current distribution of wildcat in the Polish Carpathians, mainly along the borders with Slovakia and Ukraine, shows that the Polish population forms a continuum with Slovakian and Ukrainian populations. Together they constitute the northernmost part of the larger Carpathian population of this species. The species is decreasing and is considered endangered (EN) in the Red Data Book of Poland (Wolsan and Okarma 2001).
Slovakia: The estimate of the Slovakian population in 2000 was about 1,500 individuals (unpublished data of the Slovak Environmental Agency: A. Olszanska pers. comm. 2006).
Serbia: There are large populations along the southern Danube (IUCN 2007).
Macedonia: The species is widespread (IUCN 2007).
Greece: The Wildcat is widespread in continental Greece with sightings in all forested areas and many wetlands. There are apparently more sightings in North and North-East Greece, where the population density seems to be higher. The population trend has not been quantified, but is believed to be stable.

Romania: The population is estimated to number c.10,000 individuals, but this is not based on quantitative data (Red Data Book of Romania).
Bulgaria: There are no quantitative data, but the species is considered relatively abundant (Spassov et al. 1997).
European Russia: the population size and trend have not been quantified, but there are thought to be large, relatively stable populations (IUCN 2007).

In Scotland, 88% of wild-living cats may be hybrids or feral domestic cats (Kitchener et al. 2005), and in Italy and Hungary the proportion of hybrids is estimated at 8% and 25-31% respectively (Pierpaoli et al. 2003, Lecis et al. 2006). On the basis of museum specimens, the proportion of hybrids in Bulgaria was estimated at 8-10% (Spassov et al. 1997), but the extent of hybridisation may have increased since this study. The hybridisation rate was observed to be 14 % in Portugal (Oliveira et al. 2008), 4 % in eastern and 43 % in western Germany (Hertwig et al. 2009) and 36 % in France where 46% of wild-living cats may belong to a non-wildcat group (Say et al. 2012). In Switzerland, the introgression rate was estimated to be 20%, with a migration rate of 0-0.043 domestic migrants into the wildcat population per generation and 0-0.017 from wildcats into domestic cats (95% CI, Nussberger et al. 2014). Wildcats of mixed origin have also been found in Belgium (Pierpaoli et al. 2003). In general the genetic distance to the domestic cat is larger in the north of the range than in the south (Pierpaoli et al. 2003) and introgression between Wildcat and domestic cat is less in Eastern European populations (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Outside Europe detailed studies on the extent of hybridisation are rare. Evidence of hybridisation has been found in southern Africa (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Yamaguchi et al. 2004b, Stuart et al. 2013) and North Africa (Stuart et al. 2013) although introgressive hybridisation between Wildcats and domestic cats may not be widespread in South Africa (Le Roux et al. 2014). 

Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Wildcats are found in a wide variety of habitats, from deserts and scrub grassland to dry and mixed forest; absent only from rainforest and coniferous forest. European wildcats are primarily associated with forest and are found in highest numbers in broad-leaved or mixed forests with low population densities of humans. They are also found in Mediterranean maquis scrubland, riparian forest, marsh boundaries and along sea coasts. Areas of intensive cultivation and urbanisation are avoided. Wildcats in Africa are found everywhere outside tropical rainforest, although thinly distributed in true desert (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Asian Wildcats range up to 2,000 - 3,000 m in mountainous areas with sufficient vegetation, but are most typically associated with scrub desert (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

Rodents and lagomorphs are the staple of the Wildcat's diet across its range, with birds of secondary importance, although a variety of small prey is taken, and wildcats also scavenge (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002).

Phelan and Sliwa (2006) found large home ranges (52.7 km² for a radio-collared female) in desert in the United Arab Emirates, larger than home ranges reported elsewhere in more optimal haibtat – 6 - 10 km² for females in South Africa's Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (Herbst and Mills 2005 in Stuart et al. 2013) and 1 - 2 km² for females in Scotland and France (Stahl et al. 1988, Macdonald et al. 2004).

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: In the past Asian Wild Cats were trapped in large numbers for their fur, although at present there is little international trade (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Wild Cats are most threatened by domestic cats. Although the lack of information, especially outside Europe, prevents us from drawing a general conclusion, hybridization is considered widespread; there may be very few Wild Cat populations remaining where there is little history of hybridization with the domestic cat (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Macdonald et al. 2004, Phelan and Sliwa 2006, Driscoll et al. 2007). Feral domestic cats also compete with Wild Cats for prey and space, and there is a high potential for disease transmission between domestic cats and Wild Cats (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Yamaguchi et al. 1996, Daniels et al. 1999, Macdonald et al. 2004).

Other threats include significant human-caused mortality, in Europe, especially road kills (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Lüps et al. 2002, Schulenberg 2005). The species is still considered a pest in Scotland and is illegally persecuted (Macdonald et al. 2004). Predator control measures in a number of European countries may result in this species being killed as bycatch, e.g. snaring and lamping in Scotland. Wild Cats are also killed as pests in southern Africa, although this does not seem to have resulted in population declines (Stuart et al. 2013). In the past Asian Wild Cats were trapped in large numbers for their fur, although at present there is little international trade (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

Historically, habitat loss led to dramatic declines in Europe and Russia in the 18th to mid-20th centuries (Macdonald et al. 2004). However, Wild Cats can do well in cultivated landscapes, which increase rodent population densities (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002), although these are the areas where hybridization with domestic cats occurs and spreads.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Included on CITES Appendix II ( The Wild Cat is fully protected across most of its range in Europe and Asia, but only some of its African range (Nowell and Jackson 1996), although effective implementation of protection on the ground may be a different issue. The European Wild Cat is listed on the EU Habitats and Species Directive (Annex IV) as a “European protected species of animal”. It is also listed in Appendix II of the Bern Convention. It is classed as threatened at the national level in many European range states (IUCN 2007).  The Asian Wild Cat is legally protected in Afghanistan, having been placed on the country’s first Protected Species List in 2009, which bans all hunting and trading of this species within Afghanistan. With so little information or data known on this species in Afghanistan, it is also proposed as a priority species for future study.

The main conservation need includes 1) identifying “wildcat” populations where there is little history of introgressive hybridization with domestic cat, 2) investigating the effects of hybridisation on the fitness of hybrid individuals, and 3) preventing hybridization by neutering and removing feral domestic cats if necessary. Such efforts have been complicated by the difficulty of distinguishing Wild Cats from domestic cats, especially when introgressive hybridization with domestic cats is extensive (Macdonald et al. 2004). However, morphological and genetic methods have been developed, tested, and improved to resolve these problems (Schauenberg 1969, 1977, Randi and Ragni 1986, 1991, French et al. 1988, Beaumont et al. 2001, Reig et al. 2001, Pierpaoli  et al. 2003, Yamaguchi et al. 2004a,b, Kitchener et al. 2005, Driscoll et al. 2007, 2011, Platz et al. 2011, Nussberger et al. 2013, 2014, Devillard et al. 2014), and to save the Wild Cat from cryptic extinction before it is too late

Citation: Yamaguchi, N., Kitchener, A., Driscoll, C. & Nussberger, B. 2015. Felis silvestris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T60354712A50652361. . Downloaded on 16 October 2018.
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