Saturday 7 March 2009

Difference between the European and African Wildcat

There is a "family" of wildcats; small and looking like the domestic cat. This short post is about the difference between the European and African wildcat. It is probably fair to say that we are still not completely sure of the significance of the differences between the African, Scottish, Spanish, Indian desert and European wildcats. It is the wildcat that domesticated itself many thousands of years ago and which is the domestic cats closest relative as a result.

This African wildcat looks very much like a domestic cat. Perhaps he/she is a hybrid. He also acts like a domestic cat running away from the noisy guinea fowl. The Scottish wildcat is more cobby and thick set because of the cold environment I suspect.

Research carried out by Eric Hurley of Cape Town University indicates that there is a distinct genetic difference between the European and African wildcat. They look similar but the study suggests that they diverged as two distinct groups hundreds of thousands of years ago. Further research will reveal it is thought that the regional varieties of the wildcat are not subspecies but isolated populations of the same cat.

There is a difference in coat color and texture between the European and African species as a result of the differing environments and habitats. There is also a difference in temperament. We know how, for example, the Scottish wildcat likes to avoid people and is rarely seen. By contrast, the African wild cat prefers to live close to human settlements and occasionally scavenge for our food. Was this how domestication happened and if so is it still happening?

Further studies have indicated that it is the African wildcat that has an extremely close genetic match to the domestic cat. This indicates that it is the African wildcat that is the wild ancestor of the domestic cat having been exported from Africa. One problematic area is the extensive naturally occurring cross breeding of wildcat to domestic cat, which blurs the boundary between the two species. As I recall in one captive breeding program of 50 Scottish wildcats only 20% were purebred wildcats. However, distinctive differences remain between the African wildcat and domestic genetically to enable us to tell the difference even if the wildcat is a hybrid.

Difference between European and African Wildcat to Home page

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