Hunters in undisturbed old-growth forests

Author: Maik Elbers
Author: Maik Elbers

The secretive wildcat is back

It takes a lot of luck to encounter a Wildcat in the forest in broad daylight – too secretive and elusive is the way of life of this fascinating species that suffered persecution for centuries and mainly lives in undisturbed deciduous and mixed forests with areas of old-growth. The Wildcat differs from the domestic cat by its bushier tail with black rings and rather poorly defined coat pattern.

It lived in our forests long before the Romans brought the first domestic cats over the Alps. But is is only recently that we have gained detailed knowledge about the life of the Wildcat. As a strictly-protected species under the European Flora Fauna Habitat Directive, the species has recently been the target of many field-biological investigations. The Wildcats are attracted by the scent of valerian-soaked lure sticks distributed in the forest. They rub against the roughened sticks and always leave a few hairs behind. Genetic studies then provide safe proof of identity as a Wildcat. In addition, infrared-triggered cameras and telemetry are used. This involves catching animals and fitting them with a transmitter.

Unfortunately, young Wildcats are exposed to many dangers. Often they fall victim to Foxes, Stoats, Pine Martens or sometimes Eagle Owls. Road traffic is also a major threat. Extensive forests with near-natural stocks of trees and unfragmented migration corridors are therefore indispensable for the stabilization and expansion of the Wildcat population in South Westphalia.