African wildcat

The African wildcat (Felis lybica) is a wildcat species native to Africa, West and Central Asia up to Rajasthan in India and Xinjiang in China.[1] The IUCN Red List status Least Concern is attributed to the species Felis silvestris, which at the time of assessment also included the African wildcat as a subspecies.[2]

Results of genetic research indicate that the African wildcat diverged into three clades about 173,000 years ago, namely the Near Eastern wildcat, Southern African wildcat and Asiatic wildcat. African wildcats were first domesticated about 10,000 years ago in the Near East, and are the ancestors of the domestic cat (F. catus).[3] In Cyprus, an African wildcat was found in a burial site next to a human skeleton in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B settlement Shillourokambos. The graves are estimated to have been established by Neolithic farmers about 9,500 years ago and are the earliest known evidence for a close association between a human and a cat. Their proximity indicates that the cat may have been tamed or domesticated.[4] Crossings between domestic cats and African wildcats are still common today.[5]

African wildcat
Parc des Felins Chat de Gordoni 28082013 2
An African wildcat at Parc des Félins
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Felis
Species:
F. lybica
Binomial name
Felis lybica
Forster, 1780
Subspecies
AfricanWildcat distribution
Distribution of African wildcat

Characteristics

Sylvestrislybicaskull
Illustration of an African wildcat skull

The African wildcat's fur is light sandy grey, and sometimes with a pale yellow or reddish hue, but almost whitish on the belly and on the throat. The ears have small tufts, are reddish to grey, with long light yellow hairs around the pinna. The stripes around the face are dark ochre to black: two run horizontally on the cheek from the outer corner of the eye to the jaw, a smaller one from the inner corner of the eye to the rhinarium, and four to six across the throat. Two dark rings encircle the forelegs, and hind legs are striped. A dark stripe runs along the back, the flanks are lighter. Pale vertical stripes on the sides often dissolve into spots. Its tail has two to three rings towards the end with a black tip. Its feet are dark brown to black below.[6][7]

It differs from the European wildcat by inconspicuous stripes on the nape and shoulders, a less sharply defined stripe across the spine and by the slender tail, which is cylindrical, less bushy and more tapering. Ears are normally tipped with a small tuft. Its fur is shorter than of the European wildcat, and it is considerably smaller.[8]

Skins of male wildcats from Northern Africa measure 47–59.7 cm (18.5–23.5 in) in head-to-body length with a 26.7–36.8 cm (10.5–14.5 in) long tail. Skins of female wildcats measure 40.6–55.8 cm (16.0–22.0 in) with a 24.1–33.7 cm (9.5–13.3 in) long tail.[9] Male wildcats from Yemen measure 46–57 cm (18–22 in) in head-to-body length with a 25–32 cm (9.8–12.6 in) long tail; females were slightly smaller measuring 50–51 cm (20–20 in) in head-to-body length with a 25–28 cm (9.8–11.0 in) long tail. Both females and males range in weight from 3.2–4.5 kg (7.1–9.9 lb).[10]

Distribution and habitat

The African wildcat occurs across Africa, around the periphery of the Arabian Peninsula, and in the Middle East as far eastward as the Caspian Sea.[11] It inhabits a broad variety of habitats, especially in hilly and mountainous landscapes such as the Hoggar Mountains. In deserts such as the Sahara, it occurs at much lower densities. It ranges across the area north of the Sahara from Morocco to Egypt and inhabits the tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands south of the Sahara from Mauritania to the Horn of Africa, including Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Sudan. Farther south, it is present in all East and Southern African countries.[2]

In 2014 and 2015, it was recorded in Benin’s Pendjari National Park by camera-traps.[12]

In Mediterranean islands

Felis Lybica Sarda 05
The wild cat in Sardinia is of domestic cat origin.[13]

The wild cat in Sardinia and Corsica was long considered a subspecies of the African wildcat with the scientific name Felis lybica sarda.[8] Results of zooarchaeological research indicate that it descended from domestic cats probably introduced at the beginning of the 1st millennium from the Near East. These populations are considered feral today.[14][13]

The wildcat on the island of Sicily is considered a European wildcat.[13][15]

Taxonomy

Felis lybica was the scientific name proposed in 1780 by Georg Forster who based his description on a specimen from Gafsa on the Barbary Coast that had the size of a domestic cat, but a reddish fur, short black tufts on the ears, and a ringed tail.[16] Between the late 18th and 20th centuries, several naturalists and curators of natural history museums described and proposed new names for wildcat holotypes from Africa and the Near East, including:

Since 2017, three African wildcat subspecies are recognised as valid taxa:[1]

Phylogeny

Felis

Jungle cat (F. chaus) Felis chaus - 1700-1880 - Print - Iconographia Zoologica - Special Collections University of Amsterdam -(White Background)

Black-footed cat (F. nigripes)

Sand cat (F. margarita)

European wildcat (F. silvestris) Anatomie descriptive et comparative du chat (1845) Pl-I (white background & colourised)

African wildcat (F. lybica) Felis caligata - 1700-1880 - Print - Iconographia Zoologica - Special Collections University of Amsterdam -(white background)

Domestic cat (F. catus) Felis obscura - 1834 - Print - Iconographia Zoologica - Special Collections University of Amsterdam - (white background)

The Felis lineage[28]

Based on a mitochondrial DNA study of 979 domestic and wildcats from Europe, Asia, and Africa, the African wildcat is thought to have split off from the European wildcat about 173,000 years ago, with the North African/Near Eastern wildcat splitting from the Asiatic wildcat and the Southern African wildcat about 131,000 years ago. About 10,000 years ago, some African wildcats were tamed in the Fertile Crescent and are the ancestors of the domestic cat. Domestic cats are derived from at least five "Mitochondrial Eves".[3] African wildcats were also domesticated in ancient Egypt. The Egyptian domestic cat lineage started spreading in the Mediterranean Basin from the 8th century BCE onwards and arrived on the Baltic Sea coast by the 5th century CE.[29]

Ecology and behaviour

African wildcats are active mainly by night and search for prey. Their hearing is so fine that they can locate prey precisely. They approach prey by patiently crawling forward and using vegetation to hide. They rarely drink water.[30] They hunt primarily mice, rats, birds, reptiles, and insects.[31][6]

When confronted, the African wildcat raises its hair to make itself seem larger in order to intimidate its opponent. In the daytime it usually hides in the bushes, although it is sometimes active on dark cloudy days. The territory of a male overlaps with that of up to three females.[32]

Hunting and diet

In West Africa, the African wildcat preys on rats, mice, gerbils, hares, small to medium-sized birds, including francolins, and lizards. In Southern Africa, it also attacks antelope fawns and domestic stock, such as lambs and kids.[7]

In Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, it preys foremost on murids, to a lesser extent also on birds, small reptiles and invertebrates.[33]

Reproduction

Females give birth to one to three kittens, mostly during the warm wet season.[31]

The African wildcat often rests and gives birth in burrows or hollows in the ground. The gestation period lasts between 56 and 69 days. The kittens are born blind and need the full care of the mother. They stay with their mother for five to six months and are fertile after six months.

Conservation

Stamp of Azerbaijan 275
African wildcat on a 1994 stamp of Azerbaijan

The African wildcat is included in CITES Appendix II.[2]

Alley Cat Rescue is currently the only organization known to have a program specifically aimed at conserving African wildcats and reducing what some refer to as genetic pollution by domestic cats.

It has been discovered that a domestic cat can serve as a surrogate mother for wildcat embryos. The numerous similarities between the two species mean that an embyro of an African wildcat may be carried and borne by a domestic cat. A documentary by the BBC describes the details of the experiments that led to this discovery, and also shows a mature wildcat that was born by a surrogate female.[34]

In philately

The Libyan Posts issued a postage stamp dedicated to Felis lybica in November 1997 in cooperation with World Wide Fund for Nature. This issue was also released as a set of four stamps printed on a minisheet.[35]

References

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External links

Asiatic wildcat

The Asiatic wildcat (Felis lybica ornata) is an African wildcat subspecies that occurs from the eastern Caspian Sea north to Kazakhstan, into western India, western China and southern Mongolia. It is also known as the Asian steppe wildcat and Indian desert cat.

The status Least Concern in the IUCN Red List is attributed to the wildcat species complex. There is no information on current status or population numbers for the Asiatic wildcat's entire range, but populations are thought to be declining.

Black-footed cat

The black-footed cat (Felis nigripes), also called small-spotted cat, is the smallest African cat and endemic to the southwestern arid zone of Southern Africa. It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 2002, as the population is suspected to be declining due to bushmeat poaching of prey species, persecution, traffic accidents and predation by domestic animals.

Cat

The cat (Felis catus) is a small carnivorous mammal. It is the only domesticated species in the family Felidae and often referred to as the domestic cat to distinguish it from wild members of the family. The cat is either a house cat, kept as a pet, or a feral cat, freely ranging and avoiding human contact.

A house cat is valued by humans for companionship and for its ability to hunt rodents. About 60 cat breeds are recognized by various cat registries.Cats are similar in anatomy to the other felid species, with a strong flexible body, quick reflexes, sharp teeth and retractable claws adapted to killing small prey. They are predators who are most active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular). Cats can hear sounds too faint or too high in frequency for human ears, such as those made by mice and other small animals. Compared to humans, they see better in the dark (they see in near total darkness) and have a better sense of smell, but poorer color vision. Cats, despite being solitary hunters, are a social species. Cat communication includes the use of vocalizations including mewing, purring, trilling, hissing, growling and grunting as well as cat-specific body language. Cats also communicate by secreting and perceiving pheromones.

Female domestic cats can have kittens from spring to late autumn, with litter sizes ranging from two to five kittens.

Domestic cats can be bred and shown as registered pedigreed cats, a hobby known as cat fancy. Failure to control the breeding of pet cats by spaying and neutering, as well as abandonment of pets, has resulted in large numbers of feral cats worldwide, contributing to the extinction of entire bird species, and evoking population control.It was long thought that cat domestication was initiated in Egypt, because cats in ancient Egypt were venerated since around 3100 BC.

However, the earliest indication for the taming of an African wildcat (F. lybica) was found in Cyprus, where a cat skeleton was excavated close by a human Neolithic grave dating to around 7500 BC. African wildcats were probably first domesticated in the Near East. The leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) was tamed independently in China around 5500 BC, though this line of partially domesticated cats leaves no trace in the domestic cat populations of today.As of 2017, the domestic cat was the second-most popular pet in the U.S. by number of pets owned, after freshwater fish, with 95 million cats owned. As of 2017, it was ranked the third-most popular pet in the UK, after fish and dogs, with around 8 million being owned. The number of cats in the UK has nearly doubled since 1965, when the cat population was 4.1 million.

Cats in ancient Egypt

Cats in ancient Egypt were represented in social and religious practices of Ancient Egypt for more than 30 centuries. Several Ancient Egyptian deities were depicted and sculptured with cat-like heads such as Mafdet, Bastet and Sekhmet, representing justice, fertility and power.

The deity Mut was also depicted as a cat and in the company of a cat.Cats were praised for killing venomous snakes and protecting the Pharaoh since at least the First Dynasty of Egypt. Skeletal remains of cats were found among funerary goods dating to the 12th Dynasty. The protective function of cats is indicated in the Book of the Dead, where a cat represents Ra and the benefits of the sun for life on Earth. Cat-shaped decorations used during the New Kingdom of Egypt indicate that the cat cult became more popular in daily life. Cats were depicted in association with the name of Bastet.Cat cemeteries at the archaeological sites Speos Artemidos, Bubastis and Saqqara were used for several centuries. They contained vast numbers of cat mummies and cat statues that are exhibited in museum collections worldwide.

Among the mummified animals excavated in Gizeh, the African wildcat (Felis lybica) is the most common cat followed by the jungle cat (Felis chaus).

In view of the huge number of cat mummies found in Egypt, the cat cult was certainly important for the country's economy, as it required breeding of cats and a trading network for the supply of food, oils and resins for embalming them.

Civet cat

Civet cat is an imprecise term that is used for a variety of cat-like creatures including:

Civets, of the families Viverridae and Nandiniidae

Ring-tailed cat or North American Civet Cat (Bassariscus astutus), related to the raccoons

Leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), a true cat

African wildcat (Felis silvestris libyca), a true cat

Spotted skunks, skunks of the genus Spilogale

Corsican wildcat

The Corsican wildcat (Felis catus) used to be considered a subspecies of the African wildcat (Felis lybica), but is now regarded to have been introduced to Corsica during the Roman Empire around the beginning of the 1st millennium.It was proposed as a species in 1929 by Louis Lavauden who described a skin and a skull of a specimen from Biguglia under the scientific name Felis reyi.

Cretan wildcat

The Cretan wildcat is a member of the genus Felis that inhabits the Greek island of Crete. Its taxonomic status is unclear at present, as some biologists consider it probably introduced, or a European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris), or a hybrid between European wildcat and domestic cat (F. catus).Felis silvestris cretensis was proposed as scientific name for the Cretan wildcat in 1953 by Theodor Haltenorth. He described two cat skins that were purchased in a bazaar in Chania and resembled a skin of an African wildcat (Felis lybica lybica), but with a bushy tail like a European wildcat.

In the 1980s, Colin Groves measured and assessed zoological specimens of cats that originated in the Mediterranean islands. He concluded that the two cat skins from Crete differed from true wildcat specimens and therefore considered them feral cats.Crete has been isolated from the continent for about 6 million years. Palaeontological data indicate that the island was colonised during the Pleistocene by those mammalian taxa that were able to swim across the sea. Crete’s Pleistocene endemic mammalian fauna comprised rodents and herbivores, but remains of predators were not found. Pleistocene mammals died out before the Holocene.

More than 9,000 animal bones were excavated at the archaeological site Kavousi Kastro in eastern Crete in the late 1980s that date to the Late Geometric period at about 8th century BC. These faunal remains also included one cat that was identified as domestic cat.

Fragments of a domestic cat were also found at the archaeological site Gortyn dating to the 6th to 7th century AD.In October 2017, Greek news sites circulated reports that a sheep farmer captured a wild cat after laying traps for a predator that attacked young sheep of his herd. The reports were accompanied by photographs and video footage of the captured animal.

Felinae

The Felinae is a subfamily of the family Felidae that comprises the small cats that have a bony hyoid, because of which they are able to purr but not roar.Other authors proposed an alternative definition for this subfamily: as comprising only the living conical-toothed cat genera with two tribes, the Felini and Pantherini; thus excluding all fossil cat species.

Felis

Felis is a genus of small and medium-sized cat species native to most of Africa and south of 60° latitude in Europe and Asia to Indochina.The genus includes the domestic cat. The smallest Felis species is the black-footed cat with a head and body length from 38 to 42 cm (15 to 17 in). The largest is the jungle cat with a head and body length from 62 to 76 cm (24 to 30 in).Felis species inhabit a wide range of different habitats, from swampland to desert, and generally hunt small rodents, birds and other small animals, depending on their local environment. The worldwide introduction of the domestic cat also made it common to urban landscapes around the globe.Genetic studies indicate that Felis, Otocolobus and Prionailurus diverged from a Eurasian progenitor about 6.2 million years ago, and that Felis species split off 3.04 to 0.99 million years ago.

Feral cat

A feral cat is a freely ranging wild-living domestic cat (Felis catus) that avoids human contact: it does not allow itself to be handled or touched, and usually remains hidden from humans. Some feral cats may become more comfortable with people who regularly feed them, but even with long-term attempts at socialization they usually remain fearful.

Attempts to control feral cat populations are widespread. Some advocate trap-neuter-return programs to prevent the cats from continuing to breed, as well as feeding the cats, socializing and adopting out young kittens, and providing healthcare. Others advocate euthanasia. Feral cats often live outdoors in colonies: these are called managed colonies when they are provided with regular food and care by humans.

Ferret-badger

Ferret-badgers are the five species of the genus Melogale, which is the only genus of the monotypic mustelid subfamily Helictidinae.

Bornean ferret-badger (Melogale everetti)

Chinese ferret-badger (Melogale moschata)

Javan ferret-badger (Melogale orientalis)

Burmese ferret-badger (Melogale personata)

Vietnam ferret-badger (Melogale cucphuongensis)

Kaffir

Kaffir or Kafir may refer to:

Racial and religious termsKafir, an Arabic term alluding to a person who rejects or disbelieves in Allah, God

Kaffir (racial term), term used in South Africa to refer to a black person; originally a neutral designation now often an ethnic slur.

The Nuristani people descendants of the Hindukush Kafir people

Sri Lanka Kaffir people, an ethnic groupLanguagesFanagalo, a Zulu-based pidgin language once referred to as Kitchen Kaffir Fanagalo is a common language spoken between diverse groups.

Sri Lanka Kaffir language, a creole spoken by that people

Kafiiri or Kafiristani, terms for the Nuristani languagesPlacesKaffraria or British Kaffraria, a former designation for King William's Town and East London, South Africa

Kafir, IdlibBotanyKaffir lime, a variety of lime fruit native to Indonesia also known as a makrut lime

Kaffir lily (disambiguation), one of two flowers found in southern Africa:

Clivia miniata

Hesperantha coccinea

Kaffir or kaffir corn, another name for the grain sorghum

Kaffir boom (Erythrina lysistemon), a species of tree in the Fabaceae familyOtherKafir harp

Sunbeam Kaffir, an engine built by the Sunbeam car company

African wildcat, formerly known as the Kaffir cat

Lutrogale

Lutrogale is a genus of otters, with only one extant species—the smooth-coated otter.

Nyctereutes

Nyctereutes is an Old World genus of the family Canidae, consisting of just one living species, the raccoon dog of East Asia. Nyctereutes appeared about 9.0 million years ago (Mya), with all but one species becoming extinct before the Pleistocene.

Native to East Asia, the raccoon dog has been intensively bred for fur in Europe and especially in Russia during the twentieth century. Specimens have escaped or have been introduced to increase production and formed populations in Eastern Europe. It is currently expanding rapidly in the rest of Europe, where its presence is undesirable because it is considered to be a harmful and invasive species.

Shillourokambos

Shillourokambos (Greek: Σιλλουρόκαμπος) is a Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) site near Parekklisia, 6 km east of Limassol in southern Cyprus. It is located on a low plateau. Excavations began in 1992. The settlement has four phases and was occupied from the end of the 9th millennium to the second half of the 8th millennium.

The architecture of phases A and B (8200-7500 BC, calibrated) is characterised by circular wattle and daub structures, with post holes cut into the bedrock. Some deep pits may have served as wells.

Ca. 300 blades of Anatolian obsidian point to trade connections with the mainland. Sickles are made of multiple parts, and projectile points made of bipolar blades, lacking in the later Khirokitia culture, are common. The site contains wells and cattle enclosures as well.

The middle and late phases (7500 BC) conform more closely to the Khirokitia culture with circular stone houses, comparable to those at Kastros. Imported obsidian is rare, and sickles are made from single robust blades.

The site is important because it attests to the presence of cattle in the aceramic Neolithic period. Cattle died out in the course of the 8th millennium and were not reintroduced until the ceramic Neolithic. Only dog and pig bones show morphological signs of domestication (size reduction), sheep, goat and cattle bones are in the size range of the wild species (Mouflon, bezoar goat and wild cattle, respectively). The range of bones present point to a killing near the site, thus making a state of pre-domestication probable. Fox and persian fallow deer are present as well, but seem to have been hunted. There are no bones of the Holocene dwarf fauna present in Shillourokambos.

Shillourokambos is also the site of the oldest evidence of human domestication of cats was found.

Until recently the cat was commonly believed to have been domesticated in ancient Egypt, where it was a cult animal. But three years ago a group of French archaeologists led by Jean-Denis Vigne discovered the remains of an 8-month-old cat buried with its human owner at a Neolithic site in Cyprus.

The date of the burial far precedes Egyptian civilization. Together with the new genetic evidence, it places the domestication of the cat in a different context.

Historians previously accounted Egypt as the earliest site of cat domestication due to the clear depictions of house cats in ancient Egyptian paintings about 3,600 years old. However, in 2004, a Neolithic grave was excavated in Shillourokambos, Cyprus that contained skeletons, laid close to one another, of both a human and a cat. The grave is estimated to be 9,500 years old, pushing back the earliest known feline-human association significantly. The cat specimen is large and closely resembles the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), rather than present-day domestic cats.

Southern African wildcat

The Southern African wildcat (Felis lybica cafra) is an African wildcat subspecies native to Southern Africa.

In 2007, it was tentatively recognised as a distinct subspecies on the basis of genetic analysis. Morphological evidence indicates that the split between the African wildcat subspecies in Africa occurred in the area of Tanzania and Mozambique.In Afrikaans it is called 'vaalboskat'; in Swahili 'kaka mwiw', 'kimbum', or 'kaka pori'; in Herero 'ochawhi'; in Ndebele 'igola'. It is also known in English as the 'bush cat'.

Tabby cat

A tabby is any domestic cat (Felis catus) that has a coat featuring distinctive stripes, dots, lines or swirling patterns, always together with a mark resembling an 'M' on its forehead. Tabbies are sometimes erroneously assumed to be a cat breed. In fact, the tabby pattern is found in many breeds, and is a genetic landrace common among the general mixed-breed population. The tabby pattern is a naturally occurring feature that may be related to the coloration of the domestic cat's direct ancestor, the African wildcat (Felis lybica lybica), which—along with the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) and Asiatic wildcat (Felis lybica ornata)—has a similar coloration. A genetic study found five genetic clusters from tabbies to be ancestral to wildcats of various parts of the world.

Wildcat

The wildcat is a species complex comprising two small wild cat species, the European wildcat (Felis silvestris) and the African wildcat (F. lybica). The European wildcat inhabits forests in Europe and the Caucasus, while the African wildcat inhabits semi-arid landscapes and steppes in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia, into western India and western China.

The wildcat species differ in fur pattern, tail, and size: the European wildcat has long fur and a bushy tail with a rounded tip; the smaller African wildcat is more faintly striped, has short sandy-gray fur and a tapering tail; the Asiatic wildcat (F. lybica ornata) is spotted.The wildcat and the other members of the cat family had a common ancestor about 10–15 million years ago. The European wildcat evolved during the Cromerian Stage about 866,000 to 478,000 years ago; its direct ancestor was Felis lunensis. The silvestris and lybica lineages probably diverged about 173,000 years ago.The wildcat has been categorized as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List since 2002, since it is widely distributed, and the global population is considered stable and exceeding 20,000 mature individuals. However, in some range countries both wildcat species are considered threatened by introgressive hybridisation with the domestic cat (F. catus) and transmission of diseases. Localized threats include being hit by vehicles, and persecution.The association of African wildcats and humans appears to have developed along with the establishment of settlements during the Neolithic Revolution, when rodents in grain stores of early farmers attracted wildcats. This association ultimately led to it being tamed and domesticated: the domestic cat is the direct descendant of the African wildcat. It was one of the revered cats in ancient Egypt. The European wildcat has been the subject of mythology and literature.

Extant Carnivora species

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