European wildcat

The European wildcat (Felis silvestris) is a wildcat species native to continental Europe, Scotland, Turkey and the Caucasus.[3] It inhabits forests from the Iberian Peninsula, Italy, Central and Eastern Europe to the Caucasus. It has been extirpated in England and Wales.[4]

In France and Italy, the European wildcat is predominantly nocturnal, but also active in the daytime when undisturbed by human activities.[5][6]

European wildcat
Felis silvestris silvestris Luc Viatour
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Felis
F. silvestris
Binomial name
Felis silvestris
EuropeanWildcat distribution
Distribution of European wildcat


Skull of a European wildcat

The European wildcat's fur varies in colour from brownish to gray with paler contour hairs. It has five stripes on the forehead, which are broken up into small spots. A dark stripe behind the shoulders expands into a spinal stripe running up to the base of the tail. On the sides, it has irregular dark stripes, which brake up on the hind legs, thus forming a blotched pattern. Its tail is bushy with two to three black, transverse rings and rounded at the black tip.[7] The top of the head and the forehead bear four well-developed dark bands that split into small spots. Two short and narrow stripes are usually present in the shoulder region, in front of the dorsal band. Some individuals have a few light spots on the throat, between the forelegs, or in the inguinal region. The dorsal surface of the neck and head are the same colour as that of the trunk, but is lighter gray around the eyes, lips, cheeks, and chin. A slight ochreous shade is visible on the undersides of the flanks. A black and narrow dorsal band starts on the shoulders, and runs along the back up to the base of the tail. In some animals, the summer coat is ashen coloured. The patterns on the head and neck are as well-developed as those on the tail, though the patterns on the flanks are almost imperceptible. Guard hairs measure 7 cm (2.8 in), the tip hairs 5.5–6 cm (2.2–2.4 in), and the underfur 4.5–5.5 in (110–140 mm). Corresponding measurements in the summer are 5–6.7 cm (2.0–2.6 in), 4.5–6 cm (1.8–2.4 in), and 5.3 cm (2.1 in).[8]

Large males in Spain reach 65 cm (26 in) in length, with a 34.5 cm (13.6 in) long tail, and weigh up to 7.5 kg (17 lb). They also have a less diffuse stripe pattern, proportionally larger teeth, and feed more often on rabbits than the wildcats north of the Douro-Ebro, which are more dependent on small rodents.[9]

The European wildcat is on average bigger and stouter than the domestic cat, has longer fur and a shorter non-tapering bushy tail. It has striped fur and a dark dorsal band.[10] Males average a weight of 5 kg (11 lb) up to 8 kg (18 lb), and females 3.5 kg (7.7 lb). Their weight fluctuates seasonally up to 2.5 kg (5.5 lb).[11]

European wildcats have proportionately shorter cheek tooth rows with smaller teeth, but a broader muzzle than African wildcats.[12] Since European wildcats and domestic cats interbreed, it is difficult to distinguish wildcats and striped hybrids correctly on the basis of only morphological characteristics.[13]

Distribution and habitat

Die Wildkatze in der Wildnis
European wildcat in a German game park

The European wildcat lives primarily in broad-leaved and mixed forests. It avoids intensively cultivated areas and settlements.[14] The northernmost population lives in northern and eastern Scotland.[15]

There are two disconnected populations in France. The one in the Ardennes in the country's north-east extends to Luxembourg, Germany and Belgium. The other in southern France may be connected via the Pyrenees to populations in Spain and Portugal.[16] In the Netherlands, European wildcats were recorded in 1999 near Nijmegen and in 2004 in North Brabant; these individuals had possibly dispersed from Germany.[17] In Germany, the Rhine is a major barrier between the population in Eifel and Hunsrück mountains west of the river and populations east of the river, where a six-lane highway hampers dispersal.[18] The population in the Polish Carpathian Mountains extends to northern Slovakia and western Ukraine.[19][20] In Switzerland, European wildcats are present in the Jura Mountains.[21] Three fragmented populations in Italy comprise one in the country's central and southern part, one in the eastern Alps that may be connected to populations in Slovenia and Croatia. The Sicilian population is the only Mediterranean insular population that has not been introduced.[22]

Behaviour and ecology

Hunting and diet

In Western Europe, the wildcat feeds on hamsters, brown rats, dormice, water voles, voles, and wood mouse. From time to time, it also preys on small carnivores like martens, European polecat, stoat, and least weasel (Mustela nivalis), as well as fawns of red deer (Cervus elaphus), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), and chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra). In the Carpathians, the wildcat feeds primarily on yellow-necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis), northern red-backed vole (Myodes rutilus), Tatra pine vole (Microtus tatricus), and occasionally also European hare (Lepus europaeus). In Transcarpathia, the wildcat's diet consists of mouse-like rodents, galliformes, and squirrels. In the Dnestr swamps, it preys on Microtus, water voles, and birds, while those living in the Prut swamps primarily target water vole, brown rat, and muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus). Birds taken by Prut wildcats include warblers, ferruginous duck, Eurasian coot, spotted crake, and gadwall. In Moldavia, the wildcat's winter diet consists primarily of rodents, while it preys on birds, fish, and crayfish in summer. Brown rats and water voles, as well as muskrats and waterfowl are the main sources of food for wildcats in the Kuban River delta. Wildcats in the northern Caucasus feed on mouse-like rodents and edible dormice, as well as birds, young chamois and roe deer on rare occasions. Wildcats on the Black Sea coast are thought to feed on small birds, shrews, and hares. On one occasion, the feathers of a white-tailed eagle and the skull of a kid were found at a den site. In Transcaucasia, the wildcat's diet consists of gerbils, voles, birds, and reptiles in the summer, and birds, mouse-like rodents, and hares in winter.[8]

The Scottish wildcat mainly preys on European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and field vole (Microtus agrestis), wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus), field and bank vole (Myodes glareolus), and of birds.[23]


The European wildcat is a member of the Felidae that had a common ancestor about 10–15 million years ago.[24] The genus Felis is estimated to have diverged from the Felidae around 6–7 million years ago, with the European wildcat diverging from Felis about 1.09 to 1.4 million years ago.[25]

Fossil remains of small wild cats found in Europe indicate that the European wildcat probably descended from Felis lunensis in the Villafranchian more than 1 million years ago, a transition that was completed by the Holstein interglacial about 340,000 to 325,000 years ago.[26]


In most European countries, European wildcats have become rare. Although legally protected, they are still shot by people mistaking them for feral cats. In the Scottish Highlands, where approximately 400 were thought to remain in the wild in 2004, interbreeding with feral cats is a significant threat to the wild population's distinctiveness.[27] The greatest population of wildcats lives in Spain and Portugal but is threatened by interbreeding with feral cats and loss of habitat.[28][29] In the 1990s, the easternmost population in Ukraine, Moldova, and the Caucasus was threatened by destruction of broad-leaved forests, entailing a reduction of their range. Only small numbers occur in protected areas.[30]

Conservation efforts

Felis silvestris silvestris
Closeup of European wildcat, Germany

The European wildcat is protected in most European range countries. It is listed in CITES Appendix II, in Appendix II of the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats and in the European Union's Habitats and Species Directive.[4]

In Germany

In 2004, the Friends of the Earth Germany initiated the project “Safety Net for the European Wildcat”. This project aimed at relinking Germany's forests by planting bushes and trees between areas inhabited by and suitable for European wildcat, and which are larger than 500 km2 (190 sq mi). They developed the “Wildcat Routing Map”, a map depicting the 20,000 km (12,000 mi) long network of corridors.[31] An Action Plan for the Protection of the European Wildcat in Germany was developed in 2009, aiming at doubling the area inhabited by European wildcat and linking populations within Germany and with neighbouring countries until 2019.[32]

In Scotland

In 2013, the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Group developed the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan. With this plan, the group set national action priorities and defined responsibilities of agencies and funding priorities for conservation efforts between 2013 and 2019. Its implementation is coordinated by Scottish Natural Heritage.[33]

In captivity

The European wildcat has the reputation for being effectively impossible to raise as a pet. Naturalist Frances Pitt wrote "there was a time when I did not believe this ... my optimism was daunted" by trying to keep a wildcat she named Beelzebina.[34]


Felis silvestris Kocka divoká zoo cropped
European wildcat in a zoo in Děčín, Czech Republic

Felis (catus) silvestris was the scientific name proposed in 1778 by Johann von Schreber when he described a wild cat based on texts from the early 18th century and before.[1] In the 19th and 20th centuries, several wildcat type specimens were described and proposed as subspecies, including:

Two different forms often are identified in the Iberian Peninsula: the common European form, north of the Douro and Ebro Rivers, and a "giant" Iberian form, sometimes considered a different subspecies F. s. tartessia, in the rest of the region.[38] The palaeontologist Björn Kurtén noted that the disputed "Tartessian" subspecies has uniquely kept the same size and proportions as the form that was found throughout mainland Europe during the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene.[26] The habitat of both forms also is different: the northern, typical population lives mainly in deciduous Quercus robur forests and the southern, large type in Mediterranean evergreen Quercus ilex forests.[9]

Zoological specimens of cats that originated on Mediterranean islands are not considered native but introduced, including:[39][40][41]


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External links

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. 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.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). 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.Crossings between domestic cats and African wildcats are still common today.

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 sìth

The Cat Sìth (Scottish Gaelic: [kʰaʰt̪ ˈʃiː]) or Cat Sidhe (Irish: [kat̪ˠ ˈʃiː], Cat Sí in new orthography) is a fairy creature from Celtic mythology, said to resemble a large black cat with a white spot on its chest. Legend has it that the spectral cat haunts the Scottish Highlands. The legends surrounding this creature are more common in Scottish folklore, but a few occur in Irish. Some common folklore suggested that the Cat Sìth was not a fairy, but a witch that could transform into a cat nine times.The Cat Sìth may have been inspired by the Scottish wildcat itself. It is possible that the legends of the Cat Sìth were inspired by Kellas cats, which are a distinctive hybrid between Scottish wildcats and domestic cats only found in Scotland (the Scottish wildcat is a subspecies of the European wildcat, which is absent from elsewhere in the British Isles).

Caucasian wildcat

The Caucasian wildcat (Felis silvestris caucasica) is a European wildcat subspecies that inhabits the Caucasus Mountains and Turkey.

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.

Felid hybrid

A felid hybrid is any of a number of hybrid between various species of the cat family, Felidae. This article deals with hybrids between the species of the subfamily Felinae (feline hybrids). For hybrids between two species of the genus Panthera (lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards), see Panthera hybrid. There are no known hybrids between Neofelis (the clouded leopard) and other genera. By contrast, many genera of Felinae are interfertile with each other, though few hybridize under natural conditions, and not all combinations are likely to be viable (e.g. between the tiny rusty-spotted cat and the leopard-sized cougar).


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 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.

Felis attica

Felis attica is an extinct cat, of which the first fossil skull was excavated near Pikermi in Attica, Greece.

Fossils were also excavated near the Moldovan city of Taraclia.F. attica was bigger in body size than a European wildcat but probably smaller than a serval. Due to size differences, it was proposed as type species for the genus Pristifelis proposed in 2012.Around 12 million years ago, the genus Felis evolved and eventually gave rise to many of the modern small cat species. Felis attica was a small lynx-like cat and one of the ancestors of the first modern Felis species, such as F. lunensis, which evolved around 2.5 million years ago during the Pliocene epoch.

Felis lunensis

Felis lunensis (Martelli's cat) is an extinct felid of the subfamily Felinae. Around 12 million years ago, the genus Felis appeared and eventually gave rise to many of the modern small cats. Felis lunensis was one of the first modern Felis species, appearing around 2.5 million years ago in the Pliocene. Fossil specimens of F. lunensis have been recovered in Italy and Hungary. Fossil evidence suggests the modern European wildcat Felis silvestris may have evolved from F. lunensis during the Middle Pleistocene. This has resulted in F. lunensis occasionally being considered a subspecies of Felis silvestris.

Felis lunensis first described by Ugolino Martelli in 1906 was a mandible excavated in Pliocene deposits near Olivola in Tuscany. The holotype specimen is now preserved in the collection of the University of Florence in Italy.

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.

Harz National Park

Harz National Park is a nature reserve in the German federal states of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. It comprises portions of the western Harz mountain range, extending from Herzberg and Bad Lauterberg at the southern edge to Bad Harzburg and Ilsenburg on the northern slopes. 95 % of the area is covered with forests, mainly with spruce and beech woods, including several bogs, granite rocks and creeks. The park is part of the Natura 2000 network of the European Union.

In its current form, the park was created on January 1, 2006 by the merger of the Harz National Park in Lower Saxony, established in 1994, and the Upper Harz National Park in Saxony-Anhalt, established in 1990. As the former inner German border ran through the Harz, large parts of the range were prohibited areas, that apart from the fortifications had remained completely unaffected for decades. Today the park covers parts of the districts of Goslar, Göttingen and Harz.

Rare animals of the Harz National Park include the dipper, the black stork, peregrine falcon, the European wildcat and especially the Eurasian lynx. The last lynx in the Harz Mountains had been shot in 1818, but in 1999 a project for reintroducing was established. Since 2002 several wild lynxes gave birth. An attempt to return the capercaillie (Auerhuhn) however did not succeed.

Highland cat

Highland cat may refer to:

Highland Fold, a.k.a. Scottish Fold Longhair, a semi-long-haired variant of the medium-sized Scottish Fold breed of domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus); sometimes referred to simply as the Highland; has ears folded downward

Highland Straight, a.k.a. Scottish Straight Longhair, a semi-long-haired variant of the medium-sized Scottish Straight domestic cat breed (in turn a normal-eared variant of the Scottish Fold, making the Highland Straight the normal-eared version of the Highland Fold)

Highlander cat, formerly called the Highland Lynx, a large breed of domestic cat with close-set, often upward-curling ears; related to the American Curl, and not related to the wild lynx species at all

Highland wildcat, another name for the European wildcat, a northerly population of the European wildcat species (Felis silvestris silvestris), sometimes classified as the separate subspecies F. s. grampiaKellas cat, a feral hybrid between the Highland wildcat and the domestic cat

Highland or Highlander, names used for the British Longhair domestic cat breed, only and (inconsistently) by the pedigree registry Feline Federation Europe (which even refers to them as "Highland Straight" sometimes, despite that being the Scottish Straight Longhair).

Llogara National Park

The Llogara National Park (Albanian: Parku Kombëtar i Llogarasë) is a national park centered on the Ceraunian Mountains along the Albanian Riviera in Southwestern Albania, spanning an surface area of 1,010 ha (10.1 km2). The park's terrain includes large alpine meadows, vertical rock faces, precipices and dense forests. The most area of land is covered by forests and was established in 1966 to protect several ecosystems and biodiversity of national importance. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the park as Category II. The region has been recognised as an important Bird and Plant Area, because it support significant numbers of various bird and plant species.The park features outstanding diversity with the landscape ranging from the alpine peaks of the Ceraunian Mountains covered with snow in winter to the sunny Albanian Ionian Sea Coast in summer. At 1,027 m (3,369 ft), the Llogara Pass provides a striking scenery, with tall mountains overlooking the Albanian Riviera and several islands in the sea. The region experiences a mediterranean climate. This means that the summers are hot and the winters generally dry to warm to cool.

Despite the vicinity to the mediterranean climatic region, an alpine climate prevails at the Maja e Çikës. Geomorphologically, carbonate rocks occupy most of the area, while the mountains are composed of limestones and dolomites.Phytogeographically, the park falls within the Illyrian deciduous forests terrestrial ecoregion of the Palearctic Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub. Its flora is diverse and characterized with high endemism, due to the combination of southern geographic latitude and high altitude variation. The forests are composed of diverse deciduous and coniferous species among other by bosnian pine, black pine, bulgarian fir, silver fir, ash trees, kermes oak and other species. Air currents that flow through the area have caused trees to bend in many interesting shapes, such as the Pisha e Flamurit. The vertebrate fauna consists of a wide range of species. Among the species of highest conservation value are the griffon vulture, golden eagle, rock partridge, fallow deer, roe deer, european wildcat, chamois, red squirrel, otter, wolf and red fox.

Tourism is the most important sector in the park and has the largest potential to be a source for sustainable income. Along the National Road 8 there are several restaurants, hotels, and a small wooden cabin complex. The area of the park and the surrounding mountains are used mainly for hiking and tracking tours. A paragliding site serving annually as the 9th FAI World Paragliding Accuracy Championship venue is located south of the park. Along the twisting road are several local vendors of honey and mountain tea. Caesar's Pass, named after Julius Caesar who marched down near the area in pursuit of Pompey, is also located nearby the Llogara Pass.


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

Schauenberg's index

Schauenberg's index is the ratio of skull length to cranial capacity.

This index was introduced by Paul Schauenberg in 1969 as a method to identify European wildcat (Felis silvestris) skulls and distinguish them from domestic cat (Felis catus) skulls.

Scottish wildcat

The Scottish wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) is a European wildcat population in Scotland. This population is estimated to comprise between 1,000 and 4,000 individuals, of which about 400 cats are thought to meet the morphological and genetic criteria of a wildcat.

The Scottish wildcat population used to be widely distributed across Britain, but has declined drastically since the turn of the 20th century due to habitat loss and persecution. It is now limited to north and east Scotland.

It is listed as Endangered in the United Kingdom and is primarily threatened by hybridization with domestic cats.Camera-trapping surveys carried out in the Scottish Highlands between 2010 and 2013 revealed that wildcats live foremost in mixed woodland, whereas feral and domestic cats were photographed mostly in grasslands.

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.


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.

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