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Posts Tagged ‘Kellas cat’

The notion that the black cats of parts of northeast Scotland are hybrids between Scottish wildcats and domestic cats is not controversial. The idea that they represent a hybrid species is, however, not something that has been considered. 

These black cats were anomalous, and during the tabloid-soaked years of the 1980s and 1990s, they became sort of legendary throughout Britain.  Eventually, some analysis was performed on some specimens, and it was decided that these animals represented hybrids between domestic cats  and Scottish wildcats. At the time,  these two animals were considered different subspecies but belonged to the same species.

Since that time, a new revision of felid taxonomy has been proposed in which the European and Caucasian wildcats are placed in one species (Felis silvestris) and the species that gave rise to the domestic cat is now called Felis lybica.  I generally agree with this new taxonomy, because of the deep division molecular division between these two cats, but I think that the domestic cat belongs as as part of Felis lybica in the same way dogs are part Canis lupus

If one adheres to this revision and accepts my little critique, then the so-called Kellas cats represent a hybrid species.  It would be great if more molecular studies were performed on these cats, but cats don’t seem to get as much fanfare or funding as dogs do when it comes to these sorts of studies.

I should also note that the Scottish population of European wildcats has significant introgression from domestic cats, so much so that in past 30 years, no Scottish wildcat DNA samples have shown to be free of domestic cat genetic markers.

If one defines a species as having no other crossed in, then we could say that Scottish wildcat is extinct in the wild, but we know that countless species exchange genes with close relatives,

This ecotype of the Lybica wildcat is much more adapted to the Holocene world than the European wildcat ever was. It is more than at home in agrarian landscapes, and it does well in urban environments too.

This story sort of parallels our own species, which came out of Africa into the land of the Neanderthals. We exchanged genes, but our species eventually swamped the land.

Maybe we will have better DNA studies of cats. Maybe we’ll find that European and European-derived domestic cats have traces of European wildcat ancestry.

One should have little hope for the pure European wildcat existing in Scotland or anywhere else where it currently roams, but maybe if we’re okay with the simple fact that hybridization exists, we can preserve what looks and behaves like a wildcat– and not worry too much about its DNA.

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