A feline once thought to be a myth has been identified on the French island of Corsica, according to wildlife officials.
The “cat-fox,” known as the “ghjattu-volpe” in Corsican, is longer than a domestic cat with larger ears, “highly developed” canine teeth and a tail with two to four rings and a black tip, officials from the National Hunting and Wildlife Office told the French news outlet Agence France-Presse.
“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,” Carlu-Antone Cecchini, the wildlife office’s field agent in charge of forest cats, told AFP.
Researchers began tracking the population of elusive, nocturnal animals in 2008 when a cat-fox got caught in a chicken coop, French radio broadcaster Radio France Internationale reported. Since then researchers have identified 16 cat-foxes on the island, the news outlet said, 12 of which have been captured, examined and released.
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Wildlife officials were able to determine the animal’s genetic makeup by studying traces of fur, Pierre Benedetti, chief environmental technician of the hunting and wildlife office, told the AFP.
“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 said.
The cat-fox’s diet, reproductive patterns and exact origin are still a mystery, but Benedetti hypothesized the animal may have been brought to Corsica by farmers 6,500 years BC.
“If this hypothesis is confirmed, it’s origin would be considered Middle Eastern,” Benedetti told French radio. “Ultimately, we would like to see this cat recognized and protected.”
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