7 Interesting Facts About the Wildcat

Hangai Lilla

2024. July 2 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

The European wildcat, or Felis silvestris, is one of the least known and most endangered predators in our region. Despite their presence in various parts of Hungary, their population is declining. Fortunately, a new program has been launched to gather more information about these fascinating creatures.


In the following, you can learn more about the wildcat and it’s habits, external characteristics and its situation in Hungary.

1.) Illustrious Kinship

Mitochondrial DNA analysis reveals that the wildcat diverged from the common ancestor of the Felis genus, along a lineage, between 4.14 and 0.02 million years ago. The sequence began with the jungle cat, followed by the black-footed cat, the sand cat, the African wildcat, and finally the wildcat. Two subspecies of the wildcat are recognized today: the European and the Caucasian wildcats. Previously, the African wildcat and the Chinese mountain cat were also considered subspecies, but they are now recognized as separate species.

Nuclear DNA analysis shows that the domesticated cat’s closest relative is the European wildcat.

Female on the left, male on the right

2.) Native Presence

This cautious predator does everything possible to avoid humans, it’s undeniable that various areas in Hungary serve as its habitat. Populations exist in the Northern and Transdanubian Central Mountains (including the Zemplén, Gömör-Torna Karst, Bükk, Mátra, Cserhát, Börzsöny, Gerecse, Vértes, and Bakony regions), and in the Gödöllő Hills. They also nest in lowland regions along the lower Danube, the Dráva River, and in larger floodplain forests along the Tisza and Körös rivers.

A wildlife camera captured a swift wildcat sneaking through the floodplain of the Sajó River:

3.) Genuine Threats

Although the wildcat is not currently listed as threatened on the Red List, this doesn’t mean that it is thriving. Sadly, their numbers are dwindling in most countries. A major factor in this decline is confusion with stray or feral cats, leading to them being shot. In the Scottish Highlands, for example, only about 400 wild individuals remained in 2004. They facing threats from not only hunters but also hybridization with stray and feral cats, and habitat loss.

In Hungary, the wildcat has been protected since 1974, and has had strict protection status since 2012.

4.) The Wildcat Conservation Program

The practical implementation of the Wildcat Conservation Program began in 2021, in collaboration between the Budakeszi Wildlife Park, the Duna-Ipoly National Park Directorate, and the Pilis Park Forestry. This initiative includes placing cameras to observe the behavior, habits, and extent of hybridization of these remarkable animals in greater detail.

Despite the declining population in Hungary, wildcats have been spotted in new areas, such as the forests of the Buda Hills. This suggesting that peaceful coexistence with humans is possible. Besides confirming their presence, efforts are made to collect samples for genetic analysis, which is crucial since the wildcat is one of Europe’s least known and most endangered predators.

Another unique, close-up winter video from Hungary:

5.) Differences from Domestic Cats

An untrained eye might easily confuse a tabby domestic cat with a wildcat, but there are several significant differences. The wildcat’s coat is always grayish-brown, with ochre undertones on the lower body. Its markings can range from indistinct to clearly defined stripes. While similar in size to domestic cats, weighing between 4 and 6 kilograms, the wildcat has a much sturdier, more robust build. The most notable difference is in the tail, which is bushy, does not taper towards the end, and ends in a black, rounded tip.

6.) Stalk and Strike

The wildcat is an adept hunter, typically preying at night, dawn, or dusk. It stalks its prey until it’s close enough to strike with a few large leaps (which can total up to 3 meters). If the prey escapes, the wildcat won’t pursue it further and will look for new prey. Its hunting relies on keen hearing and vision.

The proud hunter

7.) Hides Rather Than Climbs

The wildcat doesn’t create its own hiding places but instead moves into nests and shelters abandoned by other animals. When threatened, despite being a predator, it prefers to hide and avoid confrontation rather than climb trees. It will typically seek a safe hiding spot in such situations.

European wildcat interesting facts about cats wildcat

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