The widespread and common ancestor of domestic cats, the Wildcat, has recently been categorized into two species (Kitchener et al. 2017). The first groups the bush and steppe cats of Africa and Asia (Felis lybica), previously known as the African Wildcat and the Asian or Asiatic Wildcat, into one species now called the Afro-Asiatic Wildcat. The second groups the forest cats of Europe (Felis silvestris), now called the European Wildcat.
All the Wildcat species can interbreed with domestic cats and unfortunately hybridization is becoming a serious threat to purebred Wildcat populations.
Nov 2022: Common name change from African-Asiatic Wildcat to Afro-Asiatic Wildcat.
(To avoid confusion with the general term 'wild cat', we use the spelling 'wildcat' to refer to this particular species.)
Key Facts about Afro-Asiatic Wildcats
~ Ancestor of the domestic cat ~
~ Interbreeds with domestic cats ~
~ Multi-continent - Africa & Asia ~
Afro-Asiatic Wildcat (Felis lybica) Classification
Afro-Asiatic Wildcats belong to the genus Felis and the full taxonomy or scientific classification of the Afro-Asiatic Wildcat species is:
Kingdom: Animalia (animals)
Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)
Class: Mammalia (mammals)
Order: Carnivora (carnivores)
Suborder: Feliformia (cat-like)
Family: Felidae (cats)
Subfamily: Felinae (small cats)
Species: Felis lybica (Afro-Asiatic Wildcat)
The scientific name for the Afro-Asiatic Wildcat is Felis lybica which is also known as the binomial name, species name, latin name, biological name or zoological name. Some use the term 'botanical name' however that term is only applicable to the plant kingdom (botany) and not the animal kingdom (zoology).
Afro-Asiatic Wildcat (Felis lybica) Subspecies
Many subspecies have been recognized in the past, however the last Felidae taxonomy revision in 2017 proposes three subspecies of Wildcats within Africa and Asia:
1. Felis lybica lybica - East, West and North Africa, Arabian Peninsular, Middle East; islands of Corsica, Sardinia and Crete
(light coloration with reddish spots, pale yellow ears and whitish face)
2. Felis lybica cafra - Southern Africa
(reddish body and ears with transverse stripes)
3. Felis lybica ornata - South-west and Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Mongolia and China
(light coloration with irregular black or brown spots)
Afro-Asiatic Wildcat (Felis lybica) Research
Here is a list of papers published on African and Asiatic / Asian Wildcats. Click on the title bar to view the abstract and the link to the article.
The cat has long been important to human societies as a pest-control agent, object of symbolic value and companion animal, but little is known about its domestication process and early anthropogenic dispersal.
Here we show, using ancient DNA analysis of geographically and temporally widespread archaeological cat remains, that both the Near Eastern and Egyptian populations of Felis silvestris lybica contributed to the gene pool of the domestic cat at different historical times.
While the cat's worldwide conquest began during the Neolithic period in the Near East, its dispersal gained momentum during the Classical period, when the Egyptian cat successfully spread throughout the Old World.
The expansion patterns and ranges suggest dispersal along human maritime and terrestrial routes of trade and connectivity.
A coat-colour variant was found at high frequency only after the Middle Ages, suggesting that directed breeding of cats occurred later than with most other domesticated animals.
Ottoni, C.; Van Neer, W.; de Cupere, B.; Daligalt, J.; Guimaraes, S.; Peters, J.; Spassov, N.; Prendergast, M.E.; Boivin, N.; Morales-Mu¤ez, A.; Balasescu, A.; Becker, C.; Llorente, L.; Manaseryan, N.; Monchot, H.; Onar, V.; Osypinska, M.; Putelat, O.; Morales, E.M.Q.; Studer, J.; Wierer, U.; Decorte, R.; Grange, T.; Geigl, E.-M.
The palaeogenetics of cat dispersal in the ancient world
2017 Ecology and Evolution: 1-7
The African Wildcat is listed as Least Concern because it is the most common and widely distributed wild felid within the assessment region. However, extensive hybridisation and introgression with domestic cats across its global distribution range has been recorded.
Recent studies suggest lower levels of introgression than expected in South Africa (Wiseman et al. 2000; Le Roux et al. 2015). As incidences of hybridisation correlate with human population pressure, high rates of rural and urban expansion (8% and 15% respectively for both Northern Cape and Limpopo provinces), especially around protected area edges, may increasingly threaten this species.
Further research on the levels of hybridisation and declines of genetically pure subpopulations may thus lead to a reassessment of the African Wildcat as a threatened species, under criterion A4e.
Key interventions include the establishment and enforcement of large protected areas to reduce the edge effects of the wild-domestic animal interface (for example the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park), and spaying and neutering domestic cats, especially in rural areas and close to protected areas.
Herbst, M.; Foxcroft, L.; Le Roux, J.; Bloomer, P.; Do Linh San, E.
A conservation assessment of Felis silvestris
2016 African Wildcat - in Red list of South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho
Within China, the Asian wildcat is distributed in Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi, and Inner Mongolia. Records from northern Tibet as well as Sichuan are questionable (Smith & Xie 2008).
Gao (1987) noted that the population may once have exceeded 10,000 individuals in northwestern China, with a density of 10/100km².
Its recent status in China is unknown, but it is assumed to be rare and, according to the China Species Red List, the population is declining (Wang 1998).
Jutzeler, E.; Xie, Y.; Vogt, K.
The world's domestic cats carry patterns of sequence variation in their genome that reflect a history of domestication and breed development.
A genetic assessment of 979 domestic cats and their wild progenitors (Felis silvestris silvestris - European wildcat; F. s. lybica - Near Eastern wildcat; F. s. ornata - Central Asian wildcat; F. s. cafra - sub Saharan African wildcat; and F. s. bieti - Chinese desert cat) indicated that each wild group represents a distinctive subspecies of Felis silvestris.
Further analysis revealed that cats were domesticated in the Near East, likely coincident with agricultural village development in the Fertile Crescent.
Domestic cats derive from at least five founders from across this region, whose descendants were subsequently transported across the world by human assistance.
Driscoll, C.A.; Menotti Raymond, M.; Roca, A.L.; Hupe, K.; Johnson, W.E.; Geffen, E.; Harley, E.; Delibes, M.; Pontier, D.; Kitchener, A.C.; Yamaguchi, N.; O'Brien, S.J.; Macdonald, D.
The Near Eastern Origin of Cat Domestication
2007 Science express: 1-6
Afro-Asiatic Wildcat Conservation
The global conservation status for the Wildcat is Least Concern (LC) due to the wide range and estimated numbers.
The previous assessment included all the Wildcats - African, Asiatic and European.
Afro-Asiatic Wildcats are common and widespread and there are no specific conservation projects for these cats; research has mostly been on the European Wildcat.
Afro-Asiatic Wildcat Facts and Information
The following organizations have well researched and authoritative information on Afro-Asiatic Wildcats.
- Afro-Asiatic Wildcat Conservation Status and Distribution Map - IUCN Red List
- African Wildcat Detailed Information - IUCN Cat Specialist Group
- Asiatic Wildcat Detailed Information - IUCN Cat Specialist Group
- African Wildcat Information - Cats For Africa
- Wildcat Fact Sheet - Int. Soc. Endangered Cats
- African Wildcat Fact Sheet - Int. Soc. Endangered Cats
- Asiatic Wildcat Fact Sheet - Int. Soc. Endangered Cats
Some websites still group all three of the Wildcats together - African, Asiatic and European.