The wildcat can be regarded as the wild version of our domestic cat. Both are sufficiently related to be considered as two subspecies. The domestic cat, however, does not originate from the wildcat, but from the domestication of another subspecies, the African wildcat.
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Wildcats like remote forests with a rich undergrowth, but also hunt in agricultural areas close to forest edges. Luxembourgish individuals are part of a population that encompasses the Greater Region. The species is protected by the Bern Convention (1979) and the European Habitats Directive (CE/92/43).
Domestic cats sometimes return to the wild. Genetic studies have revealed the presence of hybrid cats in Europe, a sign that domestic and wild cats regularly "cross their paths". The introgression of domestic cat genes into the gene pool of the wildcat is a potential threat to its conservation, but this phenomena is not well understood. Visually, domestic and wild cats can be easily distinguished, but it's more challenging with their hybrids. Their identification is based on genetic criteria instead of morphological ones.
As part of a large national monitoring programme of the biodiversity in Luxembourg, LIST started the monitoring of the conservation status of the wildcat at the national scale in 2011. This monitoring is based on the non-intrusive collection of wildcat hairs with the aid of a "hair trap": a wooden stick planted in the soil, coated with an odorous substance (valerian tincture). As illustrated by a video obtained by a surveillance camera this last 23th January (Oesling, Luxembourg), the smell of the valerian triggers the marking behaviour of the wildcat, which actively rubs on the stick, leaving its hairs on it. The hairs are collected and a genetic analysis is then performed.
The smell of the valerian triggers the marking behaviour of the wildcat, which rubs on the stick, leaving its hairs on it. Those are collected and a genetic analysis is then performed.
First results showed the presence of the wildcat in 91% of the 22 sites explored, indicating a good distribution throughout the country. However , hybrids were found in 59% of the sites and national hybridisation rate was about 21%. Luxembourg is therefore not spared from the hybridization phenomenon, but the Oesling region seems to be less affected than the Gutland.
The analysis of all results will help to better understand the influence of landscape features or human-related factors on the wildcat genetics and to establish measures for their conservation.