TechnologyCorsica's 'cat-fox': On the trail of what may be a new species
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"We believe that it's a wild natural species which was known but not scientifically identified because it's an extremely inconspicuous animal with nocturnal habits," says Pierre Benedetti, chief environmental technician of the National Hunting and Wildlife Office (ONCFS).
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"It's a wonderful discovery," he tells AFP, holding the feline -- called "Ghjattu volpe" in Corsican -- found in Asco forest on the French Mediterranean island.
While resembling a domestic cat in some ways, the ring-tailed feline measures 90 centimetres (35 inches) from head to tail, has "very wide" ears, short whiskers and "highly developed" canine teeth.
Other distinguishing features include the stripes on the front legs, "very dark" hind legs and a russet stomach. The dense, silky coat is a natural repellent for fleas, ticks and lice.
The tail usually has two to four rings and a black tip.
"It's their size and their tail that earned them the name 'cat-fox' across the island," says Benedetti.
Using nonviolent methods, the ONCFS has since 2016 captured 12 of 16 felines seen in the area, releasing them again after a quick examination.
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Now, they say, they hope to have "this cat recognised and protected" within two to four years.
- Legend has it -
"The cat-fox is part of our shepherd mythology. From generation to generation, they told stories of how the forest cats would attack the udders of their ewes and goats," says Cecchini.
After years of playing cat and mouse, one of the animals "was caught unexpectedly in 2008 in a chicken coop at Olcani in Cap Corse," says Benedetti, who has been researching the species for more than 10 years.
Research got under way and, in 2012, with the help of a method involving essence attractive to cats and a wooden stick which they rub against leaving traces of their fur, they were able to determine its genetic make-up.
"By looking at its DNA, we could tell it apart from the European wildcat, Felis silvestris silvestris. It's close to the African forest cat, Felis silvestris lybica, but its exact identity is still to be determined," Benedetti adds.
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With advanced photographic and later physical traps, the researchers captured their first "cat-fox" in 2016.
There are still many mysteries surrounding the cat.
Its diet and reproductive patterns are yet to be studied but Benedetti has a theory that the cat could have been brought to Corsica by farmers 6,500 years BC.
"If the hypothesis is true, its origins are Middle Eastern," he says.
The identification chip in the neck of the animal being shown to AFP helps reveal that it is a male of between four and six years old, already caught a few times before and has a damaged eye caused by a fight with another male.
After examination, the cat with one green eye and one brown eye is free to go, leaving behind its GPS collar with 80 days' data.
A "fox cat" discovered in a forest in Corsica
The animal was considered a myth until agents of the National Office of Hunting and Wildlife captured a fortnight.
The "ghjattu-volpe". This Corsican name certainly does not tell you anything. This is a "-renard" hair gray-fawn, a new species of cat found in the forest of Asco, by agents of the National Office of the hunt and wildlife (ONCFS).
"For us, it is a natural wild species, which was known but not recorded, because it is an extremely discreet animal, with nocturnal mores.It is an extraordinary discovery", enthuses Pierre Benedetti, leader environmental technician of the ONCFS, on the site of the capture carried out without violence.
This undergrowth of Haute-Corse is accessible after 45 minutes of walk in the rocky and forest landscape of the valley of Asco, where one crosses cows and rare hikers."Their length and their tail have earned them the name of fox-cat"
It is on this territory "mountainous very steep" of 25 000 hectares, "far from the presence of the man" and where there is " water and plant cover to protect it from its main predator, the "golden eagle" that ONCFS has identified 16 fox-cats and has captured 12, including a female, says Carlu-Antone Cecchini, project manager forest cat at the National Office. All were released after a quick review.
Once asleep, the silky-haired feline, very similar to the classic domestic cat for the uninitiated, is studied by both agents: 90 cm from the head to the end of the tail, ears of ears "very wide ", short whiskers, canines" very developed ".
"Tarsi of the hind legs always very black", "red-rust color on the belly", density of very important hair which preserves fleas, lice or ticks. Tail "with between 2 and 4 rings and always a well black terminal sleeve", "zebra on very characteristic front legs".
"It's their length and their tail that has earned them the name of fox-cat from one end to the other of the island", notes Pierre Benedetti stating that it has been observed in several Corsican regions."This animal belongs to the mythology of our shepherds"
Equipped with a chip with an identification number in the neck, a male "4 to 6 years", already captured several times, has a green eye and an eye brown damaged during a fight with another male. It was measured, then the cat was able to leave rid of his GPS collar carrying 80 days of data.
"For us, the story begins in 2008 with the unexpected capture of a cat in a hen house in Olcani, in Cap Corse," says Pierre Benedetti, who has dedicated more than ten years of his life.
"This animal belongs to the mythology of our shepherds, who said that these forest cats attacked the udders of their sheep and goats, and from these stories, passed down from generation to generation, we started our research, "adds Carlu-Antone Cecchini."It was a myth and today it's a reality"
A research program was launched in 2008. "Naked traps" made it possible in 2012 to "establish its genome". "It has been distinguished by its DNA of the European wildcat - Felis silvestris silvestris - it is close to the African forest cat - Felis silvestris lybica - but its exact identity remains to be determined," says Pierre Benedetti.
As the advances, photographic traps and physical traps are installed with first captures in 2016, "true knowledge cape". GPS collars have also shown their vast displacements, up to 2500 meters of altitude.
If mysteries remain in particular on its reproduction and its diet, this cat could "have arrived at the time of the second human colonization which dates back to 6500 years before our era.If this hypothesis is confirmed, its origin is medium- "advance Pierre Benedetti.
The objective of this policeman of the environment is that in 2 to 4 years to come, "this cat is recognized and protected". "At first, we were thought to be crazy but today when we show what we have as data, people are speechless," says Carlu-Antone Cecchini. "It was a myth and today it is a reality".
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Is Corsica's 'cat-fox' a previously unknown feline species? | AFP
In the Asco forest in Corsica, two agents of the National Hunting and Wildlife Office (ONCFS) show AFP what they think is a new feline species. Abonnez-vous à ...