Description: Often regarded as conspecific with the African and Indian Desert Cats, the European or Forest Wildcat has been largely isolated from them for probably 20,000 years. Larger than a domestic cat, the wildcat is tabby, with a bushy tail tipped with black and not tapering like the African Desert Cat's.
Seven subspecies of European wildcat are often recognised, but authorities differ as to their validity:
Distribution and Habitats: The European, or Forest Wildcat has a wide distribution, covering almost the whole of Europe except the far north as well as part of south west Asia as far as the Caspian Sea. Unfortunately the populated areas within this range are fragmented, with large gaps between them - evidence that the species is much depleted from its former numbers. Even in those areas where they are found numbers are often dangerously low, making survival uncertain. Much of their decline has resulted form the expansion of human population, bringing with it agriculture and deforestation. In many areas the cats have also been deliberately persecuted by misguided humans despite their beneficial effect in controlling rodents.
This cat can use a wide variety of habitats, even including swampy areas which are seldom used by other cat species. In areas where both this species and the African wildcat occur, they are said to remain separate due to their different habitat preferences.
Diet: The diet of the European wildcat consists mainly of rodents, lagomorphs and other small mammals, but it is likely that small birds are also taken when the opportunity is there.
Behaviour: Largely crepuscular, European wildcats may also be active by day in the absence of human disturbance. They maintain a territory of between two and five square miles (five to thirteen square kilometres). Hunting mainly on the ground, they will readily climb to evade pursuit and have also been reported to take to the trees in times of flood and to subsist on other animals taking refuge there.
Reproduction: European wildcats mate in February or March, the kittens being born in late April or May after a gestation perion of 63-68 days. From one to eight kittens may form a litter, 2-4 being the more usual litter size. The are independent in only four or five months and reach sexual maturity in between nine months and a year. Usually one litter is produced each year, but there are reports of some females producing a second, perhaps after losing the first one.