- Wildcat project 2021–2023
- Completed projects
The return of the European wildcat
Here we summarise the most important findings from the project «The return of the European wildcat (Felis silvestris) – Promotion of recolonisation and surveillance of population development in Switzerland», which ran from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2020.
DISTRIBUTION AND EXPANSION
The European wildcat was thought to be virtually extinct in Switzerland, but over the past three decades the native cat species has reclaimed its original habitat in the Jura and now seems to be finding habitat even beyond.
In order to assess the potential distribution of the wildcat in Switzerland and to better understand its ecological requirements, a habitat model for the wildcat was created as part of a Master's thesis. The model showed that suitable habitat for the wildcat is also available on the Central Plateau and in the Pre-Alps, and over a larger area than suspected. We then carried out two photo-trap surveys in areas with suitable habitat on the Central Plateau. The survey areas are located in the Bucheggberg (Solothurn/Bern) and between Yverdon and Epalinges (Vaud). In the Bucheggberg, there had only been anecdotal evidence of wildcats prior to this survey, and in the Vaud area there was little evidence of wildcats. In both surveys, we chose a close-meshed photo trap network to optimise the probability of detection. The presence of wildcats was confirmed in both areas. In Bucheggberg, an exceptionally large number of domestic cats were photographed, as well as some cats that could not be clearly assigned to wild and domestic cats. This phenomenon is not known from the other study areas.
TELEMETRY ON THE SHORES OF LAKE NEUCHÂTEL
We were able to determine how wildcats use the agricultural landscape and the reed belts of Lake Neuchâtel by following radio-collared individuals. Very little was known about the wildcat’s use of open landscapes. We captured and equipped a total of 10 wildcats with GPS-UHF-collars over a period of two years (2018/2019) to closely observe their movement in this rather atypical habitat. In the determined home ranges, we performed detailed terrain mapping. Analyses showed that wildcats do not only use the forest on the shoreline, but also the reed belt of Lake Neuchâtel and the agricultural landscape, even reproducing there. Further studies are planned to determine whether the agricultural land serves the wildcat as «secondary or alternative habitat» or whether some wildcats actually prefer this habitat, and which plantations and structures are particularly used. This is an important question regarding the further expansion of the species, as it sheds completely new light on the habitat requirements of the wildcat. An interesting Bachelor's thesis was also published in this topic area.
FURTHER DEVELOPMENT OF MONITORING METHODS
In the Monitoring project, we developed the methodology for photo-trap monitoring of wildcats in the Jura. Within the framework of this project, we studied a second reference area in the Jura South using the same methodology.
WILDCATS AND DOMESTIC CATS
Another focus point of this project is the coexistence of wildcats with domestic cats in the densely populated cultural landscape. In this landscape, domestic cats vastly outnumber wildcats. First results from the Seeland show domestic cats and wildcats largely avoiding each other in this landscape spatially, but especially also temporally. These results stem from a master thesis, which also equipped eleven domestic cats with GPS trackers. These observations are particularly relevant for the understanding of hybridisation. There is very little knowledge on the ethological background of the hybridisation between wildcats and domestic cats, especially how and when mating occurs between a wildcat and a domestic cat. It appears that this does not simply happen at random. Otherwise the populations would already be completely mixed. Research in other areas where newly recolonising wildcats encounter “feral” domestic cats should help confirming whether wildcats displace domestic cats.
This has given rise to a number of specific follow-up questions, which we will pursue in 2021 in the follow-up project «Conservation of the wildcat (Felis silvestris) in Switzerland and Europe».
The project was financially supported by a private foundation supporting nature conservation, the Temperatio Foundation, and the Lottery funds of the canton of Solothurn.
- Centre for Fish and Wildlife Health, ITP University of Bern (PD Dr. Marie-Pierre Ryser-Degiorgis and team)
- Cantonal authorities and game wardens
- Veterinary practice in the Moos/Ins (Dr. Anna Geissbühler and team)
- Stefan Suter (ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences)
- Senckenberg Research Institute, Division Conservation Genetics (Dr. Carsten Nowak and team)
Contact KORA: Dr. Lea Maronde