- Wildcat project 2021–2023
- Completed projects
Monitoring project for the protection of wildcats in Switzerland
The European wildcat Felis silvestris is a protected species. Wildcats are cryptic and solitary inhabitants of forests. In Switzerland, the wildcat was widely distributed over the Swiss plateau and the Jura Mountains. After the 19th century, its occurrence was restricted to the Jura Mountains. It is unclear, if the wildcat disappeared completely during the 20th century in the Jura Mountains, or if it remained as a residual population.
The status of the wildcat in Switzerland was first recorded in 2008–2010 by Hintermann & Weber on behalf of the FOEN and suggests that several hundred animals are mainly found in the Jura. Today, the wildcat is again regularly observed in the Swiss Jura. It is spreading in the Jura and also seems to be slowly colonising the Central Plateau. However, the exact distribution and population dynamics of the wildcat in Switzerland are not known.
With deterministic lynx photo-trap monitoring, the Swiss Jura is well covered. In the process, many «wildcats» are also photographed.
The aim of this pilot project was to develop a wildcat monitoring using photo-traps synergetic to the lynx monitoring to determine the abundance of the wildcat population in the Jura.
During the lynx monitoring in the Jura (60 nights/winter each, 50–60 stations with 2 photo traps each on an area of about 600–700 km²), photo trap sites were targeted at wildcats in higher density on a partial area of the reference areas Jura North and later Jura South. Each of these wildcat sites was equipped with a «lure stick» in addition to two whiteflash photo traps. These attractants (rough wooden posts) were sprayed with tincture of valerian to attract wildcats. Wildcats rub against the wooden posts and leave behind hair samples. These can then be used for later genetic analyses.
In the literature and among experts, opinions differ as to whether a distinction between domestic cats and feral cats based solely on phenotype (appearance) is possible at all. On the photo trap images from our monitoring with white flash photo traps, we succeeded in recognising feral cats as such and distinguishing them from domestic cats with a high degree of certainty. We had our assessments genetically tested by means of hair samples collected in parallel to the photos taken. The agreement was almost 100 percent. We have compiled a phenotypic criteria catalogue (in German and French) for the wild cat in the Swiss Jura.
In the course of this project
- optimal parameters (e.g. size and number of locations) for a wildcat reference area within the lynx reference area were identified,
- criteria for the phenotypical identification of wildcats from the Jura by means of camera trap pictures were established,
- methods and criteria for the individual identification of wildcats were established; and
- the wildcat’s abundance and density were calculated.
The pilot project for the wildcat monitoring is taking place in parallel to the respective deterministic lynx monitoring in the Jura in agreement with the cantons and the local game wardens. The project is financially supported by a private foundation which supports nature conservation subjects.
Project duration: 2015–2018
Study area: Jura, Schweiz
Contact KORA: Fridolin Zimmermann, Florin Kunz, Lea Maronde