For centuries, stories of shepherds living in Corsica, who are about meter-long cats with long sharp teeth that would attack ewes and goats at night have been spread around as a myth. However, in 2008, the myth was dismissed as a strange cat was accidentally caught in a chicken coop which encouraged scientists to start exploring more about this new cat species.
The researchers from the National Office for Hunting and Wildlife (ONCFS) were the team who examined and captured the animal known as the cat-fox. They confidently substantiated that this is the creature that was previously believed to be a myth.
Known as cat-fox in English or as the ‘ghjattu volpe’ in Corsican and the ‘chat renard’ in French, this cat may look similar to domestic cats but is quite distinct in some traits. While domestic cats are 46cm (18inches) in length on average, the discovered cat-fox measures 90cm (35inches) from head to tail, which is nearly twice as big as a normal cat.
The cat-fox also has much longer canine teeth, short whiskers, and wide ears. Another important distinguishable feature is their tail with four rings and a black tip.
Chief environmental technician of the National Hunting and Wildlife Office, Pierre Bendetti spoke about the achievement with utmost excitement: “It’s a wonderful discovery”. Such elation is understandable because he is credited with discovering the brand new cat species!
“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,” Pierre Benedetti added.
The animal was captured using nonviolent methods, along with other 12 cat-foxes since 2016. It is estimated that 16 of them inhabit Corsica.
Despite what scientists have learned about the cat-fox so far, much of its habits and features are still under study and research, especially its feeding and reproductive behaviors and origin. Mr. Benedetti’s theory is that the cat was brought to Corsica by farmers in 6,500 BC. “If the hypothesis is true, its origins are Middle Eastern.”, he 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,” says another ONCFS agent, Antone Cecchini.
For now, they are being fitted with identification chips for research and protection purposes. The researchers hope that within a couple of years, this beautiful species will be officially recognized and protected.