The forest cat is the progenitor of domestic cute cats. It was these animals that people domesticated about 10 thousand years ago. It was not possible to tame all representatives of this class. There are still a large number of wild cats in the forests, which are afraid of people, but pose a serious threat to small animals.
Origin of the species and description
Wild cats belong to the group of predatory mammals. The main feature of this class of vertebrates is the feeding of young with milk. The current number of predators of this species is about 5500 species.
This number includes the cat family, the key features of which include:
- good adaptability to prey ( animals quietly sneak up, and are also able to watch and chase the victim);
- a small number of teeth (compared to other representatives of predators, felines have only 28-30 teeth);
- a special coating of the tongue with pointed papillae (necessary not only for cleaning wool, but also for scraping meat from bones prey).
The specific genus of these individuals is referred to as “Cats”. This group includes representatives of felines of small size. The most famous representatives of the class are forest and domestic cats. At the same time, domesticated animals are considered by some scientists as a subspecies of wild ones. The division of cat lines occurred more than 230 thousand years ago.
The group of forest cats has 22 species of representatives, of which 7 are the main ones:
- Central European (Felis silvestris silvestris);
- Caucasian (Felis silvestris caucasica);
- African (Felis silvestris cafra);
- Turkestanian (Felis silvestris caudata);
- Omani (Felis silvestris gordoni);
- steppe (Felis silvestris lybica), subspecies – domestic (Félis silvéstris cátus);
- Asian (Felis silvestris ornata).
Representatives of this class are found in many parts of the world. Their main range is Africa, Asia and Europe.
Appearance and Features
In appearance, a wild cat is very easy to confuse with a short-haired pet. These are small animals, reaching no more than 7 kilograms in adulthood. The length of males reaches about 90 centimeters, females – no more than 75-80. From ordinary cats, they are distinguished only by slightly shortened legs and tail (at the same time, due to their characteristics, some specially bred breeds are almost indistinguishable from forest cats).
Video: Forest cat
A distinctive feature wild individuals of the feline class is a rounded muzzle. She is special with her rounded eyes and triangular-shaped erect ears. Unusual in cats and mouth. Her teeth are smaller (than ordinary cats), but much sharper.
The coat of animals is short, but thick. There are individuals of almost all shades of gray (dark, light, reddish). On the coat of most wild feline representatives, transverse stripes are clearly visible, passing along the entire body and tail (where they become especially clear). Shedding occurs twice a year. On the tail, the hair is much thicker and slightly longer. Tassels characteristic of some feline predators are absent. The paws of the animals are equipped with sharp retractable claws, which are the main tool.
Where does the wildcat live?
Wild cats are fairly common animals. They live in the woodlands of many continents.
The most favorite habitats of individuals are:
- Europe (mainly its Western and Central parts). You can meet animals in Spain, Italy. The range is limited in the north by England and the Baltic Sea;
- Caucasus. Cats also live on the northeastern border with some regions of the former Soviet Union;
- Asia. A greater concentration of animals is noted on the western peninsula of Asia Minor (or Anatolia).
These habitats of forest cats are relevant today. At the same time, they are supplemented by the southwestern regions of Ukraine, as well as Eastern Europe. Each representative of wild cats occupies its own territory for housing. Its area is about 2-3 kilometers (in the mountains, this figure can be increased several times). At the same time, during the search for a female, males can go much further than the boundaries of their territory. For life, animals choose mixed dense forests. The maximum height of the habitat is 2-3 kilometers above sea level.
Interesting fact: Wild cats are characterized by a hierarchical order of life. For a fertile area, which is home to a large number of small mammals, males fight with their fists.
Animals lead a predominantly solitary lifestyle. Pairing is done only during the mating season. They try not to get close to human settlements. Low hollows of trees act as shelters for wild cats (woody hollows used for reproduction are covered with grass and leaves). Individuals living in the mountains prefer to hide in the gorges of rocks, as well as old burrows of other animals. In this case, if there is both a badger hole and a hollow, the cat will choose the first type of shelter.
Now you know where the wild forest cat lives. Let's see what he eats.
What does the forest cat eat?
Cats get food by hunting smaller game. The diet of forest predators largely depends on the season.
In good weather, the main prey of a feline hunter are:
- small animals (mice, squirrels, chipmunks, weasels, minks etc.);
- amphibians and reptiles (frogs, snakes, lizards);
- fish (small representatives that swim mainly near the surface of the water);
- birds (and especially chicks or eggs left by winged parents in the nest ).
Hunter cats prefer those birds that live and nest on the ground.
An interesting fact: Particularly perspicacious and fearless representatives of wild cats are able to fill up a hare, roe deer or even a deer! True, this happens only when the large animal is already weakened and is not able to move quickly, as well as defend itself from cat attacks.
In winter, things are much worse with food. Due to heavy snow and frost, the number of birds is decreasing, many animals prefer to hibernate or simply sit in warm shelters, and fish hide under the crust of ice that has covered the river. Hunting is very difficult. Cats have to track and wait for their prey for a long time. It is precisely because of the difficult hunting conditions in winter that the bulk of the animals gain in the summer. The accumulated fat keeps them warm and keeps their organs functioning properly.
Fun fact: It is only in winter that felines can afford to approach human settlements. Here they brazenly steal chickens and other small livestock.
Wild cats hunt only at night. The best time to capture prey is sunset and dawn (between these events, the beast sleeps in its shelter). Moreover, if it rains at night, the cat refuses to drink.
Character and lifestyle features
Forest cats are freedom-loving animals that prefer to live alone and do not tolerate competitors on their territory. They are distinguished by their alert nature and often show aggression towards other animals or approaching people (which can be seen even when visiting the zoo).
Hissing at a person is typical even for those forest cats that they tried to tame. Animals do not lend themselves to training, do not recognize people in the house as the head and, in principle, shun all neighbors. It is impossible to have such a pet in a small apartment. He needs a large territory – at least a dacha yard. It is worth considering that the beast likes to climb trees and inspect its possessions. You shouldn't limit him to this.
However, it is likely that at the first opportunity, the “home” pet will run away from their owners, preferring a riotous lifestyle. Forest cats make sounds only during the mating season. In steel time, they are very silent. Only occasionally from their “mouths” can one hear a whistle, hiss and howl, characteristic only for them. All these sounds are reproduced by cats when aggression is shown in their direction. Animals react very quickly. Perhaps this is due to excellent vision, developed hearing and a special instinct.
Social structure and reproduction
Unlike domestic cats, forest mating is carried out only once a year and mainly from January to March. The female and male unite in an alliance only for the time of conception of offspring. Cats lure cats with a characteristic scent that spreads after an area has been marked. The males that have responded to the aroma begin a fierce fight among themselves.
The female lets only the strongest approach her. The mating process is carried out in a hollow tree (at a short distance from the ground) or in a hole abandoned by another animal. At the same time, the place of mating is arranged in advance for young offspring. The “floor” is covered with leaves, grass and even bird feathers. After the kittens are conceived, the parents separate again. The expectant mother is left alone and awaits the appearance of offspring, taking care of him in advance. She arranges housing in the best way for childbirth.
Pregnancy of wild cats lasts for 2-4 months. At one time, the female is able to give birth to from 1 to 7 kittens. All cubs are born blind (enlightenment occurs only on the 9-12th day after birth) and helpless. They weigh only 250 grams and practically do not stand on their paws. They cannot do without maternal help in the first weeks of their lives. Mother with love and awe takes care of her cubs. She provides them with food and security. Only in a month kittens begin to actively crawl. And already at 2 – they go on the first hunt with their mother. Kittens that are more than 2 months old are very voracious. They are able to stroke up to 7 mice a day, supplementing the diet with mother's milk.
Baby cats are very playful and inquisitive. They move quickly through the parent territory and move through the trees without fear. At the age of 5 months they go into adulthood. The cats leave the mother's land and start searching for their hunting territory. The cats, on the other hand, remain within the mother's square, but equip their den. Puberty of animals occurs at the age of 10 months.
Natural enemies of forest cats
Forest cats are very agile and agile creatures. It is very difficult to hit them with other predators. Due to their ability to quickly jump from branch to branch (the length of a jump can be 3 meters), move in thickets and swim, cat representatives easily hide from potential rivals. At the same time, animals have enough enemies.
The main ones are:
- Foxes (dangerous for almost all types of forest cats, this is due to the expanded habitat of foxes);
- Jackals (pose a threat to felines living in South-Eastern Europe and Asia);
- Martens (prey on forest cats in mixed forests of Asia and Europe);
- Lynxes (threate such animals are mainly for cats living in the northern hemisphere).
The most important predator on forest cats (no matter how strange it may sound) are martens. Despite their much smaller size, they quickly hit young cats, being content with their meat.
Interesting fact: Despite the fact that jackals are considered the enemies of forest cats, they themselves are afraid of these animals. When encountering a wild cat, the jackal will prefer to abandon the carrion it has caught, returning to eating it only after the beast has left.
Mainly cats become prey due to old age, illness, or injuries that limit normal movement . In standard situations, it is extremely difficult to catch up with the animal.
Population and species status
Accurate the number of forest cats in their natural habitat is unknown. This is explained by its constant change.
The population of animals is decreasing for several reasons:
- Burning forests (due to careless human actions);
- High level of garbage (because of it, more small animals that cats eat die);
- Poaching (many hunters seek to get live wild cat in order to domesticate it).
The reduction in the number of animals is also due to floods, as well as global climate changes, for which animals are not always ready. It is worth noting that in some areas the population of wild cats was completely exterminated. Until 1927, two representatives of the feline class could be found in Belarus: lynxes and forest cats. To date, the last in this area is not left. Zoologists consider human activity to be the main reason for the extermination of animals. The human desire to become the owner of a unique breed of cats or to enrich themselves by selling it has led to a sharp decrease in the number of representatives of this group in the natural environment.
An interesting fact: In order to restore the forest cat population on the territory of Belarus, it was decided to purchase animals in Moldova for their further settlement in the state Polessky Reserve.
If it were not for the illegal actions of people (pollution of nature, arson), the number of animals would be much higher. However, now wild cats are not exposed to serious threat. An exception can be considered only one of the 22 existing species. We are talking about the Caucasian forest cat (Felis silvestris caucasica), listed in the Red Book in Russia.
Conservation of forest cats
Caucasian forest cats are officially listed in the Red Book of Russia in the “rare” category. The status of animals is a specially controlled species, characterized by a reduced number and living in a limited area. At the same time, general specialized protection of felines is not provided. It is carried out only in some reserves of the Caucasus (Teberdinsky and Sochi).
A special decline in the number of cats is noted after long snowy winters. Any change in numbers is associated mainly with a decrease/increase in the food supply (small mammals that cats feed on). Purposeful hunting of animals is rare, therefore it is not considered the main reason for the extermination of individuals.
The problem of reducing the number of Caucasian forest cats and preserving the species is directly related to the need to streamline logging activities in this area. Despite the absence of special protection measures, the animals listed in the Red Book maintain their current numbers. It decreases in winter and actively increases in spring and summer with the birth of new offspring. Radical measures to preserve the species are not planned in the near future.
Despite the fact that outwardly the forest cat is practically indistinguishable from domestic ones, it is impossible not to notice the peculiarities in their behavior, character, and reproduction. These freedom-loving animals are not afraid of danger and boldly attack animals that are much larger in size. They are only afraid of climate change and human misconduct, which pose a real threat to their numbers…