For generations, the island of Corsica has passed down a myth about a cat that lives in the forests and is occasionally spotted by farmers or shepherds at night. However, despite many sightings, the truth about the elusive species remained a mystery for many years. Then, in 2008, one of these cats was caught in a chicken coop. This discovery renewed excitement about the species not only in the Corsican people but also scientists who had been intrigued by the cat for years.
The Corsican Wildcat
- First captured in 2008
- About 16 cats live on Corsica
- Diet and lifecycle remain a mystery
The Corsican wildcat, called the cat-fox by the locals due to its fox-like face and tail, was first proposed as a species in 1929 after a skull was discovered. The lack of information on or examples of the species, though, meant it was a challenge to classify properly. Today, it is still largely a mystery to scientists. The cat is mostly nocturnal and prefers staying away from people as much as possible, which is why it is so rarely seen.
After the first cat was caught in 2008, scientists set out to trap and evaluate as many examples of the cat as possible. It was found that the population only numbers about 16, and 12 of these cats were caught, examined, and released. Because there are so few cats, however, very little information, aside from vital statistics and blood samples, was collected. Scientists are still unsure about the cats’ diet, lifecycle, or reproductive cycle.
Corsican Wildcat Appearance
- Wide ears and bushy tail give the cat its “fox” nickname
- Longer and heavier than a house cat
- Tan or brown coloring with red markings
Corsican wildcats look quite a bit like an average house cat. They can be differentiated, however, by their slightly larger size and longer body. The ears of the cat-fox are also wider and the tail is much bushier. Corsican wildcats are usually a tan or brown color with darker red-brown stripes or spots and reddish underbellies.
Origins of the Cat-Fox
- DNA testing first performed in 2012
- Closely related to the African forest cat
Originally, the cat-fox was thought to perhaps be a subspecies of either the African forest cat or the European wildcat. However, after DNA testing was performed in 2012, it has been revealed that the cat is, in fact, a separate species, although it is a close cousin to the African forest cat.
It is believed that the cat was most likely originally introduced to the island of Corsica by farmers sometime in the very distant past, perhaps as far back as 6500 BC. Farmers may have brought the cats from the Middle East to act as guards against mice and other farm pests.
Today, because the population is so small, there has been a strong push for the Corsican wildcat to be recognized as a species that requires protection. Scientists and cat enthusiasts alike still hope to learn more about this fascinating new cat species.