Irish Wildcat

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Undescribed small CATof Ireland.

Physical description: Twice the size of a domestic cat. Dirty-gray color. Tapering tail. Distribution: Western and northern Ireland. Significant sightings: William Thompson examined a large cat weighing 10 pounds 9 ounces that had been shot in the early nineteenth century in Shane's Castle Park, near Randal stown, County Antrim, Northern Irel and. It had a pointed tail, not bushy at the tip.

In 1883, W. B. Tegetmeier exhibited a specimen at the Zoological Society of London that l ooked l ike a domestic cat but had a distinctive tail and feet. It had been obtained in County Donegal .

Subfossil remains of what were at first thought to be wil dcats were found in Edenval e, Newhall, and Barntick Caves, County Clare, in 1904. These, however, turned out to be domestic cats from the Irish Bronze Age, 2000-500 B.C In 1965, A. W. Stelfox reported that these were the earliest known cat remains in Ireland.

In the summer of 1968, Lionel Leslie and others saw a large cat from a distance of 100 yards near Lough Nahooin, County Gal way.

Present status: Only a handful of sightings are on record.

Possible explanations:

(1) Feral Domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) are the likeliest candidates, rather than a native Irish wil dcat.

(2) Introduced African wildcat (F. s. lybica), the wild ancestor of domestic cats.

(3) Thompson thought the Shane's Castle cat was a European wil dcat x Domestic cat hybrid, though there woul d have to be a native wil dcat population for this to occur. Sources: Wil l iam Thompson, The Natural

History of Ireland, vol. 4, Mammalia (London: H. G. Bohn, 1856); Robert Francis Scharff, "On the Former Occurrence of the African Wild Cat (Felis ocreata, Gmel.) in Ireland," Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 26, sect. B (1906): 1-12; William Hamilton Maxwell, Wild Sports of the West (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1915); A. W. Stelfox, "Notes on the Irish 'Wild Cat,'" Irish Naturalists' Journal 15 (1965): 57-60; F. W. Holiday, The Goblin Universe (St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn, 1986), pp. 130-131; Karl Shuker, Mystery Cats of the World (London: Robert Hale, 1989), pp. 84-89; Jonathan Downes, The Smaller Mystery Carnivores of the Westcountry (Exwick, England: CFZ Publications, 1996).

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