New fox-cat species with wide ears and short whiskers identified in Corsica
An animal that looks like an overgrown domestic cat has finally been given scientific recognition as a new species.
There are just 16 cat-foxes roaming around the northern parts of the Mediterranean island of Corsica, and efforts are being made to make them a protected species.
They resemble domestic cats and measure 90cm (35inches) from head to tail, have very wide ears, short whiskers and highly developed cainine teeth.
Other distinguishing features include the stripes on the front legs, very dark hind legs and a russet stomach. The dense, silky coat is a natural repellent for fleas, ticks and lice.
The tail usually has two to four rings and a black tip.
Chief environmental technician of the National Hunting and Wildlife Office Pierre Bendetti said: We believe that its a wild natural species which was known but not scientifically identified because its an extremely inconspicuous animal with nocturnal habits.
Mr Benedetti added: Its a wonderful discovery. Its their size and their tail that earned them the name cat-fox across the island.
The cat-foxes are known on the island as Ghjattu volpe and are found in the Asco forest.
Mr Benedettis colleague Charles-Antone Cecchini said that they have a remote habitat where there is water and plant cover offering protection against its main predator, the golden eagle.
They have captured and re-released 12 of the 16 cat-foxes over the last three years to examine them and they hope they will become a protected species within the next few years.
Cecchini 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.
After years of playing cat and mouse, one of the animals was caught unexpectedly in 2008 in a chicken coop at Olcani in Cap Corse, says Benedetti, who has been researching the species for more than 10 years.
Research got under way and, in 2012, with the help of a method involving essence attractive to cats and a wooden stick which they rub against leaving traces of their fur, they were able to determine its genetic make-up.
Mr Benedetti added: By looking at its DNA, we could tell it apart from the European wildcat, Felis silvestris silvestris. Its close to the African forest cat, Felis silvestris lybica, but its exact identity is still to be determined.
With advanced photographic and later physical traps, the researchers captured their first cat-fox in 2016.
There are still many mysteries surrounding the cat.