Within the forest undergrowth of northern Corsica, two wildlife rangers open a cage to disclose a striped, tawny-coated animal, one among 16 felines generally known as “cat-foxes” within the space and considered a brand new species.
“We imagine that it’s a wild pure species which was identified however not scientifically recognized as a result of it’s an especially inconspicuous animal with nocturnal habits,” says Pierre Benedetti, chief environmental technician of the Nationwide Looking and Wildlife Workplace (ONCFS).
“It’s an exquisite discovery,” he tells AFP, holding the feline — known as “Ghjattu volpe” in Corsican — present in Asco forest on the French Mediterranean island.
Whereas resembling a home cat in some methods, the ring-tailed feline measures 90 centimetres (35 inches) from head to tail, has “very huge” ears, brief whiskers and “extremely developed” canine enamel.
Different distinguishing options embrace the stripes on the entrance legs, “very darkish” hind legs and a russet abdomen. The dense, silky coat is a pure repellent for fleas, ticks and lice.
The tail normally has two to 4 rings and a black tip.
“It’s their dimension and their tail that earned them the title ‘cat-fox’ throughout the island,” says Benedetti.
The animals are present in a distant habitat the place there’s “water and plant cowl providing safety towards its major predator, the golden eagle,” says Carlu-Antone Cecchini, ONCFS subject agent accountable for forest cats.
Utilizing nonviolent strategies, the ONCFS has since 2016 captured 12 of 16 felines seen within the space, releasing them once more after a fast examination.
Now, they are saying, they hope to have “this cat recognised and guarded” inside two to 4 years.
Legend has it
“The cat-fox is a part of our shepherd mythology. From era to era, they instructed tales of how the forest cats would assault the udders of their ewes and goats,” says Cecchini.
After years of taking part in cat and mouse, one of many animals “was caught unexpectedly in 2008 in a hen coop at Olcani in Cap Corse,” says Benedetti, who has been researching the species for greater than 10 years.
Analysis received beneath method and, in 2012, with the assistance of a technique involving essence enticing to cats and a wood stick which they rub towards leaving traces of their fur, they had been in a position to decide its genetic make-up.
“By taking a look at its DNA, we might inform it other than the European wildcat, Felis silvestris silvestris. It’s near the African forest cat, Felis silvestris lybica, however its actual id remains to be to be decided,” Benedetti provides.
With superior photographic and later bodily traps, the researchers captured their first “cat-fox” in 2016.
There are nonetheless many mysteries surrounding the cat.
Its weight loss plan and reproductive patterns are but to be studied however Benedetti has a principle that the cat might have been dropped at Corsica by farmers 6,500 years BC.
“If the speculation is true, its origins are Center Japanese,” he says.
The identification chip within the neck of the animal being proven to AFP helps reveal that it’s a male of between 4 and 6 years previous, already caught a couple of instances earlier than and has a broken eye attributable to a battle with one other male.
After examination, the cat with one inexperienced eye and one brown eye is free to go, abandoning its GPS collar with 80 days’ knowledge.