Wildcat on the Plateau of Vaud and Fribourg
Having escaped extinction, the European wildcat is on the rise again in Switzerland. Although the vast majority of Swiss wildcats are found in the Jura, the species has recently colonised some new areas. The KORA Foundation conducts several surveys with camera traps on the situation of wildcats in the Swiss Central Plateau.
Following the return of the wildcat in Switzerland
Classified as a near-threatened species in Switzerland, the wildcat has been protected since 1962. On the rise, the species has also colonised parts of the Swiss plateau and has been observed in the Pre-Alps. In view of its apparent expansion, we would like to better understand what is happening in the newly colonised regions. To this end, camera traps were set up between Lake Neuchâtel and Lake Geneva during the winter of 2019–2020 and the winter of 2021–2022 as part of the KORA Wildcat Project.
In the current study area, 102 sites were equipped with camera traps and a wooden slat to collect evidence of presence. We managed to identify 23 wildcats by photo, six wildcats by genetics and two bc2fs individuals, which are individuals from a second generation backcross. © KORA
During these two surveys, a total of 308 camera traps were deployed in the forest. In addition, small wooden slats impregnated with valerian dye were planted. The cats, sometimes attracted, rubbed themselves against them and left some of their hair. These hairs, can then be used as genetic samples.
During the winter of 2021–2022, at least 23 individuals that we identified as phenotypic wildcats were photographed .Opportunistic genetic analysis of hair collected from the wooden slats also identified 6 wildcats. The clues collected during these two winters allowed us to conclude that some wildcats are not only passing through and have established their territory on the Plateau between Lake Neuchâtel and Lake Geneva.
Wildcat photographed in the municipality of Ursins (VD): This male was observed in both 2020 (pictures) and 2022 (pictures and genetic sample), so it has established itself in the Vaudois Plateau. © KORA
Interactions between domestic and wildcats
As many domestic cats are free-roaming, interactions between them and wildcats are possible. Both species can reproduce and give birth to fertile hybrids, although they are two distinct species. During our survey, two individuals were found that originated from a backcross of the second generation. This hybridization phenomenon can be a danger for the conservation of the wildcat, which is much less numerous than the domestic cat. Another concern when the two species meet is the transmission of diseases.
For a better understanding
In order to better understand the interactions between wild and domestic cats, we have also equipped individuals with GPS collars. This part of the study, which started two years ago, is located between the canton of Bern and Solothurn. All this research should help us to find solutions to help the conservation of the wildcat.