When is a Wildcat a Wild Cat?

We know that we have to protect and conserve endangered species and many of the wild cat species are endangered.  One of them is the Scottish wildcat. We also know that we have to deal with stray and feral cats. The way we deal with stray and feral cats is very often to euthanise them; in short, in many places they are killed because they are unwanted.

Scottish wildcat domestic difference 2

But in some places such as Scotland, the Scottish wildcat mates with stray and feral cats. This is interbreeding between a protected species and their domestic forms. In technical language the Scottish wildcat becomes an introgressed protected mammal. This means the genes from one species move into the gene pool of another species through interbreeding.

This results in hybrid Scottish wildcats.  The questions are:

  • How do you tell a hybrid Scottish wildcat from a purebred wild cat?  There are slight differences so it is possible to do this but it's tricky.
  • How do you deal with hybrid Scottish Wildcats?  On the one hand the cat is a feral cat to be disliked and on the other hand the cat is an endangered wild cat species albeit somewhat modified genetically. These are "in between cats".

You can see the difficulty facing conservationists and legislators.  People who create law often legislate about how to deal with stray and feral cats.  When they make these laws they have to define what a feral cat is in order to differentiate the feral cat from other species or types of cats.  Can they do it accurately bearing in mind what I have written above? How do conservationists deal with a melange of a species?

Many of the photographs that you see of Scottish Wildcats are almost certainly hybrids.  Many of the photographs that you see of African wildcats are also hybrids.  As I understand it, the North African wildcat is not yet endangered but when the time comes, as it surely will, to assess the African wildcat as endangered then it may be very difficult to know what to do about it because a lot of the cats will be hybrid domestic cats that look like African wildcats.

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