Joint Czech-Slovak project seeks to understand return of wildcats

Wildcat, photo: Schorle, CC BY-SA 3.0

The wildcat was thought to have disappeared from the Czech lands following centuries of hunting and deforestation. However, it has been spotted again in recent years on the Czech-Slovak border. Now environmentalists from the Czech branch of Friends of the Earth and a number scientists have launched a two-year project to monitor the animal in the area. I spoke to the main project coordinator, Mirek Kutal from Friends of the Earth, and began by asking him what the venture aims to find out.

“This project is the first oficial cooperation between Czech and Slovak organisations regarding the wildcat. Its aim is to increase focus on the recent occurrences of the species on the Czech and Slovak border, because this is the westernmost part of the Carpathians where the wildcat has been spotted.

“Over previous years we have also recorded reproduction, but we have very little information about wildcat population sizes and so on, so that is the main aim of our project.”

You first came across the wild cat in this area through camera trap recordings eight to nine years ago. Why do you think this species has returned?

Miroslav Kutal,  photo: YouTube

“It is a tricky question, because it could be that the wildcat was already present to some extent in this area decades ago and we just had not seen it due to not using camera traps.

“There can also be other reasons for its return, such as that its population in Slovakia or Germany is growing, there is some evidence of that.

“It is hard to say, as we have little information and it is also what we want to find out over the next few years.”

If we could be a bit more specific, where exactly have we found traces of the wild cat along this border?

“It is the area around the border around the south of the White Carpathian mountains. Possibly, because it is a better habitat with beech forests.

“One of the factors that threatens the population is the destruction of natural habitats, such as all-grove forests which are suitable for wildcat breeding.”

One of the subjects of your study is looking into the level of hybridisation between wildcats and domestic cats. How do we know that these are not just domestic cats that have gone wild?

“According to the pictures that we have taken over previous years we are quite sure that it is the wildcat. However, we know from other eras that hybridisation with the domestic cat is possible.

“Our aim is to confirm this and compare the data with other populations. We want to know the level of hybridisation and whether this could also be a threat for the wildcat population.”