Two wildlife rangers found striped, tawny-coated animals in a remote forest in Corsica, France, which are believed to be a new species known as “cat-foxes.”
“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,” Pierre Benedetti, chief environmental technician of the National Hunting and Wildlife Office (ONCFS) told AFP.
The rangers showed off one of 16 felines found in Asco forest on the French Mediterranean island, whom they called “Ghjattu volpe” in Corsican.
The cat, though resembles a lot of its domestic counterpart, measures 90 centimeters from head to tail, has “very wide” ears, short whiskers, and highly developed canine teeth. To distinguish them against the other felines, these cats have stripes on their front legs, and two to four rings and a black tip on their tails.
“It’s their size and their tail that earned them the name ‘cat-fox’ across the island,” Benedetti said.
The one they recently captured has a chip in its neck, which revealed it has been caught a few time before and had a damaged eye after fighting with another male. He is said to be four to six years old.
ONCFS has “non-violently” captured 12 of the 16 felines found in the forest since 2016, and the cats were released immediately after a quick examination. The group said this is to have “this cat recognized and protected” within two to four years.
Carlu-Antone Cecchini, ONCFS field agent in charge of forest cats, said there had been stories about the cat-foxes for a long time and it has been part of their shepherd mythology. However, one feline was unexpectedly caught back in 2008 in a chicken coop at Olcani in Cap Corse. Four years after, research on the rare animal got underway.
“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 added.
In 2016, the researchers captured a photo of their first cat-fox.
However, the researchers say there are still a lot to know about the felines, like their diet and reproductive patterns.
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