Wildcat project 2021-2023
Conservation of the wildcat (Felis silvestris) in Switzerland and in Europe
This project is the follow-up to our 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. The questions and aims of the project are aligned to the findings of the preceding project. The project is divided into four subject areas:
Monitoring of the population development and the continuing colonisation
The pilot study on monitoring showed that a deterministic camera trap monitoring is possible for wildcats. In this project, KORA will perform further sessions in reference areas within the known core distribution of the wildcat in the Jura mountains to estimate wildcat population density.
A habitat model showed the availability of suitable habitat for wildcats also on the Swiss Plateau and in the Pre-Alps and even over larger areas than suspected. Consequently, KORA performed two camera trap sessions on the Swiss Plateau where suitable habitat existed. The study areas that KORA will continue to monitor (and possibly enlarge) in the new project are located at the Bucheggberg (Solothurn/Bern) and on the Plateau of the canton Vaud. The occurrence of several individual wildcats was confirmed in both areas. The application of camera traps has thus been successful once more, and has proven to be useful for first-time surveys in an area that has not yet been densely colonised.
Co-existence of wildcats and domestic cats
Hybridisation of wildcats with domestic cats is a potential threat to the wildcat population. New genetic analyses have allowed determining the degree of hybridisation within some wildcat population, but we still do not understand the ethological, population biological and ecological mechanisms promoting or hindering hybridisation: do wildcats perceive domestic cats as conspecifics? Do hybrids show the same fitness as pure species? Is hybridisation a continuing process or do hybrids disappear from the population again?
KORA is researching these questions within our study area at the Bucheggberg. The Bucheggberg is a moraine south of the Aare that is just being (re-)colonised by the wildcat. A first camera trap session in winter/spring 2019 showed the occurrence of phenotypical definite wildcats alongside many domestic cats. The follow-up sessions in 2020 and 2021 have confirmed this.
In the coming years, KORA will investigate the following questions: (1) will the entirety of the Bucheggberg be colonised by the wildcat and how long will this process take? (2) Will there be an increased occurrence of hybridisation and – if that is the case – (3) can hybrids remain in the population or will the disappear again with time? (4) Will the wildcat be able to prevail against domestic cats and possibly even push them back? Studying the domestic cat population will play an important role.
Awareness raising among experts and information of the public
Despite being a protected species, the European wildcat has not been granted much attention so far by the public or by the responsible national authorities. KORA has continually informed the general public about the wildcat and our project through articles in the media and with talks on the species. In this project, KORA intends to strengthen communication, especially with experts and with institutions.
Together with the animal protection organisation Kompanima and with the Haldimann Foundation, KORA is planning a symposium and a workshop on the subject of domestic cats with respect to the expansion of the wildcat.
Strategic cooperation for the conservation of the wildcat in Europe
Besides the establishment of its wildcat project in Switzerland, KORA, in cooperation with the IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group, endeavours to improve the conservation of the wildcat internationally. Discussions with colleagues from all over Europe showed a requirement for closer and coordinated cooperation for the conservation of the wildcat. KORA intends to strengthen its international activities even more and is thus also part of the EUROWILDCAT network.
The project is financially supported by private foundations supporting nature conservation subjects.
Projekt Duration: 2021-2023
Contact KORA: Dr. Lea Maronde