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16 April 2020

No Ordinary Cat

ConnectGREEN continues to show success, as wildcats are spotted, despite their elusive nature and dwindling populations

By Andreas Candido

At first glance, you might think that this is a simple picture of a cat. Yet, this is no ordinary feline — it’s a Felis Silvestris, the European wildcat, native to large parts of Southern, Central and Eastern Europe. The notoriously elusive animal was caught on camera twice between February and March 2020, in the Bükk Mountains, a section of northern Hungary, within the Inner Western Carpathians. The pictures were caught by the ConnectGREEN monitoring network, which works to preserve animal habitations.

Why is this sighting exciting? Firstly, the wildcat is primarily a nocturnal animal — sometimes traveling up to 10 km per night, while often resting during the day — therefore limiting human capacity to see them. Secondly, due to the fragmentation and relatively small social groups wildcats form, it is unknown exactly how many exist across Europe, with density estimates putting the population at around roughly 10-13 wildcats per 100 km² within the Carpathian mountain range. Thus, the ConnectGREEN camera traps ‘captures’ are essential to keep track of them and other Carpathian large carnivores.

Unfortunately, despite roaming around much of Europe, populations of the wildcats tend to be spread out and fragmented, while their overall numbers are seen to be on the decline. And while only listed as ‘Least Concern’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the wildcat’s home across Europe is not always safe and ranges from near threatened to extinct around Central and Eastern Europe. They are under threat because of the destruction of habitats, poaching, and hybridization.  The good news is that preservation efforts of carnivores across Europe will not stop. One of the central players is the ConnectGREEN project, tackling the problem in the Carpathian region.

Fun fact: the European wildcat’s denser winter fur often makes it look bigger than its African and Asian counterparts, the Felis Lybica and the Felis Silvestris Ornata, respectively.

Big Brother is watching you

The ConnectGREEN project aims to protect ‘one of the last remaining strongholds for the large carnivore species.’ Funded by the Interreg Danube Transnational Programme, the project seeks to preserve this habitat by working with regional planers, experts and other environmentalist projects in the region. ConnectGREEN brings together specialists from numerous fields, including journalists, government, scientists, planners and conservationists, to combine their experience and knowledge so that ecological corridors transcending borders are maintained for these animal species.

The numerous sightings of bears, wolves and other carnivores considered endangered, point both to the success but also the need for continued monitoring. One of the key tenants of ConnectGREEN is the monitoring system set up across the region, which allows researchers to document the progress of these animals. It also allows the researchers to identify natural corridors and animal behaviours, which in turn allows the other experts on the project to be able to work around the animals, in order to preserve them.

In this line, the project is an excellent example that growth in both the human world and natural world is mutually beneficial and entirely possible. As we are all stuck inside, it is a poignant reminder that the world lives on through nature.