Wildcat – Felis silvestris


Since the extinction of the lynx (about 450-600 AD) the Scottish wildcat is Britain’s last remaining wild member of the cat family. It bears a close resemblance to the domestic tabby, but it is more striped and has a bushier, blunt-ended tail marked with thick black rings. Now confined to the Scottish highlands, wildcats disappeared from southern England in the 16th century; the last one recorded in northern England was shot in 1849.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act gives strict legal protection to wildcats and their dens. They are easily confused with ‘feral’ cats, which are domestic cats living wild, of which there are about 900,000 in Britain today. Unfortunately the two species also interbreed to give hybrids, which makes it extremely difficult to define the genetic purity of a wildcat. The wildcat has suffered considerable decline in population and is now considered at serious risk of extinction in this country.

Origin: Native.
Size: Head / body length average about 56 cm; Tail about 29 cm.
Description: Grey / brown fur with dark stripes; Thick tail with black rings and blunt tip.
Habitat: Varied, on the edge of moor land, with pasture, scrub and forests in Scotland, north of Edinburgh and Glasgow, but not on the islands. In winter, bad weather drives them down into more sheltered wooded valleys.
Young: 1 litter of 3 – 4 kittens in May after 68 day gestation period. They are born with hair but are blind and deaf. Eyes open after 9 days and they emerge from the den at 4 – 5 weeks old. They accompany their mother on hunting trips after 10 – 12 weeks. Second litters occasionally occur in August.
Nest: They make their dens in abandoned fox earths (underground dens dug out of the ground) and badger setts, under tree trunks, in hollow trees, in bracken or among large rocks.
Diet: Rabbits, hares, small mammals and game birds.
Population: Latest estimates suggest fewer than 100 survive and extinction is considered likely.