BBC Countryfile Magazine
WHEN IS A WILD CAT A WILDCAT?
There is often confusion about what a wildcat is. In fact, says the SWA’s Emma Rawling, it’s often easier to start by saying what a wildcat is not. It is not a lynx, not a panther or mystery big cat, and not any old big tabby.
The most reliable means of identifying a cat’s ancestry is DNA analysis, but this takes weeks – little use in the field. So the team rely on physical characteristics. Typically, wildcats are bigger than domestic cats, more muscular and much more densely furred, especially in winter. The gait is prowling – more like that of a tiger than a pet cat – and the attitude is feisty. The tail is thick with a blunt tip. A study of skulls suggests wildcats have a larger cranial capacity and a larger brain than their domestic cousins, but their guts are shorter, perhaps because their diet is more meaty.
The most effective means of rapidly identifying a wildcat is the ‘pelage scoring’ technique, developed by specialist Dr Andrew Kitchener of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. This uses coat markings to score an individual out of 21. Any cat scoring 17 or higher is regarded as a true wildcat, and such cats have been shown to have mostly wildcat ancestry.