A new species of cat has been discovered on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.
The cat-fox cross looks like a slightly larger domestic cat but has now been given scientific recognition as its own distinct species.
There are reportedly just 16 of the cats on the island, so now wildlife experts are attempting to make them a protected species.
The cats are around 90cm (35inches) from head to tail and outwardly resemble a regular moggy – but they have wider ears, short whiskers and ‘highly developed canine teeth’.
The cute cats, which are known on the island as Ghjattu volpe, also have striped front legs and tails, dark back legs and a reddish stomach. They have dense fur, which acts as a natural deterrent to fleas and ticks, clever, eh?
Chief environmental technician of the National Hunting and Wildlife Office Pierre Bendetti said:
“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.”
He went on to say that the discovery of the cats was ‘wonderful’ – speaking as a cat lover, I couldn’t agree more, pal.
Charles-Antone Cecchini, who works with Bendetti at the National Hunting and Wildlife Office, said:
“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.”
After several years of attempting to officially find one of the elusive cats, one was ‘caught unexpectedly’ after wandering into a chicken coop in 2008.
Experts then set about researching the cats and made a breakthrough in 2012 with help from DNA testing to determine the animals genetic makeup.
Benedetti, who has spent more than a decade researching the species, said:
“By looking at its DNA, we could tell it apart from the European wildcat, Felissilvestrissilvestris. It’s close to the African forest cat, Felissilvestrislybica, but its exact identity is still to be determined.”
After setting up a number of cameras and traps, researchers were able to capture one in 2016.
But despite all they’ve learnt about the cats so far, there’s still mystery surrounding the feline – such as how it come to be on the island.
Benedetti reckons the cats could have been brought over by farmers in 6,500 BC, which, if true, means the cats have their origins in the middle east.
For now, the cats are being fitted with identification chips to make studying them easier.