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The Scottish Wildcat
(felis sylvestris grampia)
Description | Conservation | History | Breeding program | Identification
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Identify a wildcat

Identifying a wildcat can be a tricky thing that takes a little practice, and this has been a significant issue with their conservation; imagine the gamekeeper who glimpses a tabby on his grouse moor; is it a feral he needs to protect his grouse from? Or is it a wildcat he could get heavily fined for shooting? This has also been a problem with identifying where wildcats live with almost any tabby coloured cat being fair game to be identified as one.

Below you can find some simple guidelines to identifying a wildcat, and the differences between them, their domestic cousins, and the hybrid offspring of each, which are the really tricky ones to tell apart. The most obvious identifier is the tail; the wildcat's magnificent tail is very thick and clublike with big bold distinct rings around it, only the snow leopard or Andean Mountain Cat have anything like such a thick tail in the feline world. Second are the coat markings; pure white patches or spotted markings are primarily domestic traits, as you can see in the photo above even the white muzz is actually a tawny brown colour, however a few spots or a very small white chest mark may indicate only very minor hybridisation that will fade over a generation.

This video takes you through the key things to look out for step by step, it is an extended extract from the film "Last of the Scottish Wildcats" featuring experts Prof David MacDonald and Dr Andrew Kitchener.


Mostly brown with distinctive black tiger-stripe markings
Thick, ruffled coat appearance
Little or no spotted markings
Little or no white patches
Muscular solid body frame
Wavy lines over head and neck
Dorsal stripe ends at base of tail
Vary thick tail with a blunt end
Perfect black rings circle the whole tail with a large black tip
Jaw large and robust, typically wide head and muzz


Mostly brown with black striped tabby markings
Coat appearance variable
Some spotted markings or stripes fused together
Some white patches on throat and chest
Variable body frame
Slightly wavy lines over head and neck
Dorsal stripe partly extends onto tail
Thick tail with a blunt or tapering end
Black rings circle the tail joined by dorsal stripe with large black tip
Jaw slimmer and less robust, typically slightly slimmer head and muzz

Domestic cat

Variations of brown and black tabby markings
Smooth and sleek coat appearance
Fused stripes and spots common
White patches common
Slim, lithe body frame
Straight lines over head and neck
Dorsal stripe extends all the way down tail
Slim tapering tail
Black half rings join onto a dorsal stripe along the top of the tail
Jaw slim and proportionate, typically slim head and muzz

Norwegian forest cat

The beautiful Norwegian Forest Cat is a naturally evolved domestic breed a little like the Scottish wildcat hybrid is. As you can see from these kindly donated pictures they are very large, heavily muscled and great lovers of the outdoors and tree climbing so are easily mistaken for wildcats. Thanks to Mieuw and Norgeskaukatt Norwegian Forest Cats for the pictures of their gorgeous cats!

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