Crete: The Cretan Wildcat through photographic “traps”

The Cretan is its only wild cat and the largest purely flesh-eating animal living on the island… In important conclusions about the Cretan wild cat, which is the only wild cat of Crete and the largest purely sarcophagus animal living on the island, a survey was carried out by the Museum of Natural History of Crete of the University of Crete, on behalf of the Organization of Natural Environment and Climate Change (OFYPEKA). As part of the survey extended to the island’s three mountain volumes, the White Mountains, Psiloritis and Mount Indicator, a population equal to 0.5 to 2 persons per square kilometre of suitable habitat was recorded. Speaking at the APE the Biologist of the Museum of Natural History of the University of Crete and curator of the Spondyloti Collection Peter Lyberakis, said that “the fact that these elements emerged in terms of the population of the Cretan wildcat, located at the top of the food chain, shows that the ecosystem in which he lives – fortunately – is still in a fairly good condition.” Preparation for the research began in August 2023, while photographic “traps” were set up in places where knowledge or information had appeared in the past wildcat. The record mainly concerned the winter period, since the “traps” began to be placed at the end of October 2023 and the latter was removed at the end of February 2024. “For research, a total of six stations were created, two in each mountain volume. At each station we placed 10 pairs of “traps”, so we are talking about 60 couples in total. When we call a couple, we mean two photographic “traps” placed against each other, so that they can record all the features of the animals,” said Mr. Lyberakis, who said that the research on the Cretan wildcat started in the early 2000s, but because the media at the time were “primary” in relation to today’s, this research completed by MFIK is very important and can be, due to the quality of its conclusions, a reliable basis for future research. “We had managed with some “primary” means, some proprietary constructions, to photograph in the early 2000s animals, in the area of Eleftherna above St. Mamas,” said Mr. Lyberakis, who said that the first time a live Cretan wildcat was found, was in 1996, by two Italian scientific students studying the carnivores of Crete, who managed to “trap” an animal for the first time. “The animal at the time, we had brought it to MFIK and had taken all the measurements needed, we had studied it and we had done the necessary blood tests to get evidence. Also then, we had released the animal by adjusting to it a transmitter. Our research on the animal had lasted about three months and monitoring through the transmitter was 24 hours. The first precise conclusions on the Cretan wildcat were drawn at the time, since until then any records and evidence related to the knowledge we had of animal skins sold in a bazaar in Chania in 1905,” Peter Lyberakis said. Despite the fact that scientists believe that the results of the research were close to what they expected, the study of the Cretan wildcat, as noted by the biologist of MFIK, must continue, on the basis of the need to emerge the element of the degree of influence of the animal from the most important problem he is facing and this is hybridism, i.e. the mating of the Cretan wildcat with domestic cats, who manage to remove and approach him. “We have recorded domestic cats even at 1500 meters altitude, in wild places,” noted Mr. Lyberakis, who added that the problem of hybridism has nothing to do with “whether or not we want purebred animals, but with the problem that may arise from this intersection. Domestic cats are of different origins and may face any health problem that the wild animal has never faced. This can have serious health effects. Hybridism is also a problem, as it creates animals less adapted to the environment and perhaps this is a second year that creates greater problems for man. For example, a hybrid will be able to get closer to man, so it can attack chickens. The wild animal would rarely do such a thing.” In this light, as the biologist of the Museum of Natural History of the University of Crete and curator of the Spondylote Collection concluded, “it is important at the next stage to investigate how intense this problem is. To see with genetic tools how burdensome hybridism is to the animal and to what extent there is.”