The Wildcat.

Posted by Theresa Blood on

Meet The Relatives.

Cats are members of the felidae family, which includes the big cats as well as a number of much smaller species. In fact, the majority of wild cats are much closer in size to our own domestic pets than they are to lions and tigers. All wild cats are carnivorous hunters and most are solitary, elusive creatures, making them difficult to study. Most cat species, including the domestic cat’s nearest relative, the African wildcat, are under threat from habitat loss and their numbers are in decline. Many millions of domestic cats, on the other hand, have returned to a semi-wild state and there are colonies of feral cats all over the world.

What Is A Wildcat?

There are wild cats and wildcats – which is a little confusing. A wild cat is just a cat that is wild. So that’s a cheetah or a leopard or an ocelot, say. Whereas a wildcat is Felis silvestris, the species most closely related to domestic cats (Felis catus). There are African, Asiatic and European wildcats (of which the Scottish wildcat is a sub-species) and they live in a wide variety of habitats, from the forests of Europe to the Savannahs of Africa.

Last Fling For The Highland Tiger?

At first glance, a Scottish wildcat looks quite a lot like a large and not especially friendly tabby. They are, in fact, hardy predators and ill-suited to a life curled up in front of the fire. In fact, it’s not possible to tame them at all, despite their extremely close resemblance to their domestic cousins. Catching a glimpse of one of these elusive creatures is no easy task, as they live in remote areas and tend to keep well away from humans. Counting them is further complicated by the fact that it takes an experienced eye to tell a true wildcat apart from a domestic tabby.

Wildcats were living in the British Isles long before the arrival of the domestic cat, but their forest habitat dramatically decreased over the centuries, as wild species were turned into agricultural land. Hunted for their fur during the Middle Ages and well into the 18th century, the persecution of wildcats reached a peak during the Victorian age, when shooting became a pastime for well-to-do gentlemen. Wildcats were considered a threat to game birds, so gamekeepers were paid a bounty for every cat killed and their bodies were hung up on public display as evidence of the gamekeeper’s diligence. The species is now on the brink of extinction and there may be fewer than 100 true Scottish wildcats living in the wild. Now a protected species, they are still at considerable risk from hybridization (by interbreeding with domestic or feral cats), disease (particularly parasites and infections spread by feral cats) and road traffic. Conservation plans are in place to protect the surviving population, but it remains to be seen whether it’s too late to save Britain’s last surviving wildcats.

Eight Fascinating Facts Relating To Cats.
  • Caterwaul: Chaucer used a variant of this word to describe the noise cats make while mating, and it may come from a German dialect term, meaning to cry like a cat. It is still used to refer to the noise cats make, but is also more generally applied to loud, discordant sounds produced by people, particularly poor singers.
  • Catty: Sometimes used to talk about qualities pertaining to cats, but commonly used since the 1880s to describe being deliberately (but often subtly) unkind or insulting. The slang term is usually, but not exclusively, used about women.
  • Cat: The slang sense of the word ‘cat’ to mean a man (similar to ‘guy’) emerged in the African-American community during the 1920s. A narrower meaning, denoting a jazz enthusiast, was first recorded in 1931.
  • Kitty: A pool of money which a group of people contribute to for a shared purpose. The term has nothing to do with cats and is probably derived from the word ‘kit’ (meaning a set of parts). First recorded in the 1800s, it originally described a pot of money used for a card game.
  • Catwalk: First recorded in the 1880s, ‘catwalk’ is used to mean a long, narrow walkway, originally on ships or backstage at theatres. The term is a reference to the way cats nimbly navigate the narrowest of paths. Used to describe a platform for fashion models to walk along since the 1940s.
  • Cat-suit: A tight-fitting, one-piece outfit made of stretchable fabric, usually, but not exclusively, worn by women. Lending a sleek, feline appearance to the wearer, the garment was made famous by the character Catwoman in the Batman comic series.
  • Tortoiseshell: First recorded to describe a cat in the 1840s, tortoiseshell cats have parti-colored cots of orange, brown and black, either speckled throughout the coat or in blotches. Cats that also have white patches are often described as calico.
  • Cat Awareness Day: October 29th is celebrated each year in the USA to raise awareness of cat adoption.

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