Wildcat. Lydekker, Richard, “Handbook of British Mammals,” (1896).
Vintage Printable supports the Scottish Wildcat Association.
We love Scotland, even if we can’t understand the local language and suspect it is called Scottish “English” as some kind of linguistic inside-baseball joke. So we were curious about an interesting notice from a reader that a Vintage Printable image is used for promoting the Scottish Wildcat Association ( apologies for the blurry photo, it’s the image, not the apparel).
We are in Southern California, so one may reasonably query why we are concerned with Scottish Wildcats. For many years, there was a bobcat that sunned itself near our backyard pool during the day, occasionally taking a drink. In our non-statistically significant poll (n=2) of a self selecting population (people who were within earshot of us) asking “What do you think about supporting Scottish Wildcats” the respondents were less than enthusiastic. Nonetheless, we like nature and we like cats and we like Scotland so there’s something good about all of it.
Because we have never seen a “Scottish” wildcat, and since we do have a comprehension issue with Scottish language that is purportedly English, we thought we’d double check to see if there are actual Scottish wildcats or if they are some kind of local linguistic thing we don’t understand. We never doubted that the sincerity of the Scottish people, and don’t believe they would ever even consider painting large house cats, but we were fooled by “zebras” in Tijuana. So in an abundance of caution, we did a top-line PUBMED search.
Sure enough, there is a controversy as to how wild is “wild”?
A bit of zoological geographic distribution history, from what we gather: Wildcats roamed Europe during the last ice age, and, about 8000-9000 radio-carbon years ago, as the ice melted, and the British Isles became geographically separate, Felis silvestris presumably became further speciated into Felis silvestris grampia, the Scottish wildcat.
Complicating this further is the question of wildness ab initio. Even if Scottish wildcats are genetically distinct from those of continental Europe, are they really wild? Because wildcats have always been simpatico or rather sympatric with domesticated cats, there has been some question as to the speciation and how “wild” is wild.
Not surprisingly, then, Scottish “wildcats” or those that look like wildcats, have shown domestic genetic introjects — that is, in-breeding with house cats. See, an early paper, Beaumont M. ,”Genetic diversity and introgression in the Scottish wildcat,” Molecular Ecology 10:319–36 (2001). The gene pool of “wildness” is contaminated, and the pressure is on to preserve individual wildcats that are genetically most “wildtype”. There is more information here.
The Scottish Wildcat Association keeps the genetically “wild” individuals away from the hybrids, and is doing all sorts of things to prevent extinction, even by genetic dilution, of this important species.
That seems like a good idea to us, not only for conservation reasons, but also because we believe that the more genetic diversity in every species, the better. We don’t want a potato famine of wildcats, to make an oblique reference to what happens when there’s deleterious genetic uniformity. We will follow the genetics with interest.
As long as we’re on the subject of Scotland, we appreciate the National Library of Scotland, and found this of interest: