A new study has revealed that humans are responsible for 83% of the deaths of the wildcat (Felis silvestris), the only native wild cat of Europe, now in danger of extinction.
Eurowildcat, a team of 34 researchers from 31 institutions in 10 European countries, has studied for the first time the survival and causes of mortality of the European wildcat. In September 2021 they published their study, titled Survival and cause-specific mortality of European wildcat (Felis silvestris) across Europe in Science Direct. They followed 211 cats with radio emitters in 22 different study areas throughout the continent. The results of this research show that wildcat mortality in Europe is mainly caused by human factors, with cruelty and poaching accounting for 57% and 22% of annual mortality, respectively. The probability of annual survival was estimated at 92% for females and 84% for males.
Road density has a high impact on the annual survival of the species. In some areas, for every increase of one kilometre of main roads per Km2 the risk of mortality increases by nine times. The researchers recommend decreasing the road density in the high-risk areas and identifying conditions under which wildcat-proof fences and wildlife crossing structures should be installed to decrease wildcat mortality.
Weighing between 4 and 12 kilos and up to 125 centimetres in length, this cat can be found in fragmented populations from southern Italy to Scotland, and from Portugal to Romania. Wildcats inhabit forest areas, isolated from urban centres. Habitat fragmentation, low availability of prey, and hybridization with the domestic cat are the major threats to this species protected by the Berne Convention and the Habitats Directive of the European Union. The expansion of agriculture and the use of pesticides are two underlying factors also threatening this species.