The mysterious wild cat of Crete (scient. Felis silvestris cretensis) or fourogatos is an endemic subspecies of the European wildcat. You may hear some people referring to it as the Cretan Lynx, although it’s not belonging to the same family. It is the only wild feline on the island, which is limited to a small part of Crete.
Fourogatos was considered extinct for many years, and its existence was scarcely evidenced by local shepherds. The only information we have had about this animal until recently has come from two pelts purchased in Chania by Englishman D. Bate, a member of a scientific expedition, in 1905. However, on April 10, 1996 two students from the University of Perugia came to Crete to study the carnivorous animals of Crete in collaboration with the Natural History Museum in University of Crete. They set up traps near Platanos village in Amari valley and managed to catch an animal that took flesh and blood for first time. Later, a shepherd found a nest with 5 kittens in the forest of Rouvas.
The body of the Cretan wildcat is larger than ordinary cats. The males reach a body length of 50cm and a tail length of 30cm. The tail is narrower on its base and more bushy at its end. Moreover, the coat color is light brown with dark spots and streaks. The tail has several black rings and its end is always black. The cats feed on rabbits, birds, insects and rodents, while they live in rocky areas and isolated forests at an altitude of 900-1200m. Finally they bear 4-7 kittens, once or twice a year.
These extremely rare animals live mainly in Ida Mount, and especially in the holly wood of Rouvas. Moreover, a corpse was found in the White Mountains in 1997, confirming the reports for nightly howling cats in the Gorge of Samaria. The wildcat is highly endangered with extinction, mainly due to the outdoor use of poisons. It can also mate with domestic cats and reproduce hybrids with altered genetic code.
It is believed that the first settlers of Crete brought the first domestic cats in Crete, probably from Africa, belonging to the subspecies of Felis silvestris libyca. Cats then escaped in nature and evolved to the wild subspecies of Felis silvestris cretensis. Alternatively, the cat already existed in Crete before its separation from the nearest mainland.