Stranger than fiction

Wildcats reconquer Dutch forests

Rewilding of woodlands has encouraged the return of the long-lost feline

Wildcats have been spotted in the Netherlands for the first time in several centuries.

“The return of the animal, with its distinctive round-tipped and black-ringed tail, is a sign of the rewilding of forests in the southern Dutch region of Limburg,” says The Guardian. Wildcats disappeared from the area in the middle ages, due to hunting and forest clearance.

Hettie Meertens, a biologist who works for the ARK conservation group, said the cats would benefit from changing forest management, which now favours nature over wood harvesting. This leads to wilder forests, with fallen trees and hollow spaces that offer wildcats places to rest.

Conservationists have also been encouraging farmers to plant “cat-kind” hedges in their fields to provide habitat for voles, the wildcats’ natural prey.

“The population is small but it is increasing,” said Meertens, and conservationists are confident that they will soon be seen over a much wider area.

ARK plans to count the number of wildcats next year. This task will involve smearing valerian oil, a scent that attracts the cats, on to the branches of trees to encourage them to linger under the lenses of cameras.

The wildcat was once endemic across Eurasia and Africa, says Nature World News. It has longer legs and a flatter head than its domestic cousin.

It has been extinct in England for more than 200 years, and although “a population of about 300 wildcats remains in Scotland”, says the BBC, “it has been called ‘functionally extinct’ due to interbreeding with domestic cats”.

A wildlife charity, the Wildwood Trust, is hoping to re-establish the species in the UK within the next few years.

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