SAVE WILD CATS FOUNDATION
Wild cats in Poland
Polish wild cats - lynx and wildcat
Two species of wild cats live in Poland – the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) and the wildcat (Felis silvestris). Both species lead a secretive lifestyle. In addition, their populations in the country, although protected, are relatively small. Meeting a lynx in the natural environment requires a large dose of luck, and a wildcat - even more. Both species have several common features - they live in forests, lead a solitary lifestyle, and are specialised predators. For both, human activity is a major threat.
Historically, lynxes and wildcats had their territories throughout Poland. They knew no borders and only large rivers could be a certain limitation for them, although they overcame them because both species can swim. Urbanisation, deforestation, and hunting have meant that today we have only 200 wildcats and a similar number of lynxes in the country. Both species have been relegated to small, hard-to-reach enclaves, and the extensive road network and cities make it difficult to move between them.
Both lynx and wildcat are important links in the food chain. They reduce the number of sick and weak individuals from the population of their prey. However, they do not pose any threat to humans.
SITUATION OF LYNX IN EUROPE AND IN POLAND
In the past, Eurasian lynxes inhabited almost all of Europe and a large part of Asia. They were absent only in Spain, where the Iberian lynx had its territories. Today, the Iberian lynx is still threatened with extinction, but the biggest crisis is fortunately behind it (in 2002 there were less than 100 of them). Currently, it is estimated that there are about 9,000 Eurasian lynxes in Europe. Small populations can be found in France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and the Balkans. The largest number of lynx live in the Carpathians, the Baltic States, Finland, and Scandinavia.
The population in Poland is estimated at about 200 individuals and is divided into two parts - lowland and Carpathian. Some scientists even separate them into two subspecies. In Poland, lynxes are under strict protection. Researchers support their populations by releasing captive-born lynxes into the wild - in zoos and special breeding centres. Recently, such a project was carried out in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship, and the first lynxes released in 2019 have already had offspring. All animals released into the wild are equipped with telemetry collars, so scientists can track their fate for over a year (battery life).
It is positive that lynxes are starting to roam around Poland in search of partners and new territories. Unfortunately, the roads crossing their trails are a big threat to them. There are also cases of poaching. In the country, lynxes hunt mainly roe deer, less often deer (the wolf's main food), and wild boars. They supplement their diet with birds and smaller mammals – rodents and hares.
WHERE TO FIND A REAL Wildcat?
In the past, wildcats could be found in many places in Poland, today they are found only in the Carpathian mountains. This species is very secretive and has perfect camouflage. Most of the recordings of wildcats in Poland come from camera traps set up by scientists. Unfortunately, despite the strict protection of wildcats, the population does not grow. The biggest threat to them is crossbreeding with closely related domestic cats. Therefore, it is reasonable to ask how many wildcats in Poland are of pure origin? For example, research conducted in the Polish Tatra Mountains showed that there were any wildcats there, and all the collected hair samples came from domestic cats. Domestic cats are also a potential source of dangerous diseases for wildcats.
Interestingly, the wildcat is not the direct ancestor of the domestic cat, but it is the Nubian cat (Felis lybica) from Africa, although it must be admitted that in Europe, the admixture of wildcat blood has shaped domestic cats throughout history.
The latest wildcat reintroduction project is in Devon and Cornwall, UK. After more than 500 years, the animals are to return to the southeastern part of the island. Wildcats in nature hunt birds, rodents, lagomorphs, but also invertebrates. They can also effectively attack young roe deer or chamois.
Felids and Hyenas of the World - José R. Castelló
Zootechnician, wildlife breeding specialist