Scientists have discovered a new cat species on the French island of Corsica. The large numbers of animals have lived there since time immemorial, but it was initially assumed that it was a cross between existing breeds. DNA research has now shown that it is a separate species that has been given the official name Ghjattu volpe (fox cat).
Reportedly, there are only sixteen specimens on the island in the Mediterranean that will receive scientific recognition. The cats are larger than the average cat. Measured from the nose to the tip of their tail, they are approximately 90 centimeters long. The animals have wide ears, short whiskers and highly developed canines. They also have striped front legs and tails, dark hind legs and a belly that tends to red. Their fur is short and thick, which means that the coat acts as a natural protection against fleas and ticks. The character of the fox cats is described by experts as ‘sweet and cute’.
Pierre Benedetti, an employee of the National Office of Forets and the Chasse (the French institute for forest and hunting, ed.), is wildly enthusiastic about the find. “It is a wild, natural species that was not yet known to science. This is probably because the animals behave unobtrusively and are active especially during night hours.” His colleague Charles-Antone Cecchini calls the forthcoming recognition of the species a confirmation of stories from Corsican mythology. “There was already talk of fox-like forest cats that attacked the udders of sheep and goats to the shepherds’ despair.”
Spotted in a chicken coop
In 2008 a Ghjattu volpe was seen in a chicken coop in Corsica for the first time. Research followed, but it was only four years later that the DNA of the animals could be taken and mapped in detail. In recent years the genetic material has been compared with that of other wild species such as the European wild cat and the African forest cat. According to Bendetti, the fox cat is a separate species. “It is still a mystery how they ended up on the island. They were probably taken from the Middle East by farmers around 6500 BC.” The cats, which are no longer in their original habitat outside Corsica, will be given identification chips in the near future to make them easier to study.