Recently, the team from France’s National Hunting and Wildlife Office (ONCFS) released the news of a formerly unknown species of wildcat called the Cat-Fox or “chat-renard” in French. At first, it was only believed to be part of the French Island of Corsica’ local legend as ghjattuvolpe, a nocturnal beast which attacks sheep and goats.
During an interview with AFP, the ONCFS chief environmental technician Pierre Benedetti stated that “We believe that it’s a wild natural species which was known but not scientifically identified because it’s an extremely inconspicuous animal with nocturnal habits,” Benedetti has been studying the species for more than ten years already.
How is it different from our pet cats?
These cats have black ringed tails that are fox-like, “highly developed” canine teeth, “very wide” ears, short whiskers. And they are bigger. Cat foxes can grow up to 90 centimeters (35 inches) from head to tail-tip, while normal cats usually grow up only to 76 centimeters. They are nocturnal (active/awake at night). Also, they have stripes on their front legs, “very-dark” hind legs and a russet-colored stomach. Their silky and thick coat is designed to repel ticks, fleas, and lice naturally.
Why is it called Cat fox?
It’s not a type of fox, neither, is it a combination of a cat and a fox. But it is believed to be a wild cat. “It’s their size and their tail that earned them the name ‘cat-fox’ across the island,” says Benedetti. Some experts stated that its ears and tail resemble a fox, but its fur and facial characteristics are somehow similar to a typical cat.
Its existence was first popularly known last 2008 when a single cat-fox was caught by accident in a hen house at Olcani in Cap Corse.
Last 2012, to get and determine the golden stripped creature’s DNA, the team created traps with wooden sticks that have an irresistible smell to cats. As a result, they were able to get its fur, when the cats rubbed their bodies against the sticks.
After some analysis, they discovered through its DNA, that it is somehow related (but can be differentiated) from the European wildcat, Felis silvestris. It’s closely related to the African forest cat, F. silvestris lybica. However, it’s “exact identity is still to be determined,” Benedetti added.
The first cat was captured in 2016 using modernized photographic traps. Afterward, the team was able to catch 12 of the 16 total cats that they’ve seen using non-violent methods.
According to an ONCFS field agent, Carlu-Antone Cecchini, the cats were found in a location where “water and plant cover offering protection against its main predator, the golden eagle.” After examining and tagging the cats with electronic chips to track their adventures, the ONCFS releases them to the wild unharmed. One of the cats they’ve captured is a male cat with a one golden and one brown eye — a result of a cat fight.
The cat-fox may turn out like the mysterious wolf-like dog found in Montana last May 2018. It was revealed that it’s just an old type of wolf.
Today, it is still uncertain whether the cat-fox is new species or an old species that hasn’t been formally recognized. But some people argue that this may be a new species which is a combination of two types of species (species hybridisation). This hybridization is possible since a new bird species was discovered in the Galapagos.
The answer behind the lineage of these cats is one of the mysteries that are yet to be known. It’s diet, and ways of reproduction, are however to be discovered and learned in the future. Also, Benedetti has a theory that these cats may have been living on the French island of Corsica since 6,500 years BC.
He added that farmers might have brought these cats in the island. Meanwhile, Scientists believe that the cat could have originated from Africa or the Middle East.
According to CNN, the wildlife rangers from ONCFS expect that by catching, studying and tagging the cat foxes, they can somehow help these cute furry friends to be known and protected shortly, hopefully in two to four years.