Tarn: how the forest cat conquered the black mountain

the essential
The forest cat is now installed in the forests of Black Mountain. But his matings with domestic cats undermine the existence of this breed.

Have you ever heard of the forest cat? For many it is no. “However, it has existed for a very long time in France and in Europe”, supports Maxime Belaud, member of the nature association of Occitanie and specialist in this big cat.

“In 1850 it was found throughout the national territory. Then he was hunted, the victim of a popular belief that he attacked wild boar and deer. A little big prey for him. It has nothing to do with a lynx. The cat feeds on field mice , voles and small birds. »

We find its traces in the Pyrenees and in northeastern France. From the 2000s, hikers are sure to have encountered this cat in the forests of the Montagne Noire. “Back then there was no scientific documentation. »

This is where the association decides to show a project, financed by the Region and Dréal. “In 2020, it’s gone. Cameras and brushes are being put down. “The analyzes confirm that the forest cat has indeed taken up residence in the Black Mountain, recognizes Maxime Belaud.

Several hundreds

A population that today can be estimated at several hundred. “The problem is that we only have 30% of the races. The remaining 70% are hybrids, which are the result of mating with a domestic cat. These “hybrids” are much more numerous than in the Pyrenees. »

The reason ? The Black Mountain has many isolated villages and farms whose owners let the cats roam. Therefore, it is recommended that they be sterilized to avoid endangering the forest breed.

He comes from the Pyrenees

Where does this cat come from, whose size is about a meter with the tail and a weight of 5 kg for the males? “He comes from the Pyrenees. Hence our latest research to understand the sites of its migration,” adds Maxime.

“We are certain that some of these cats have taken to the Aude to conquer new territories. The real question is how they managed to cross the A61 motorway, which bisects the department and has no dedicated wildlife crossing. »

The surveys are set up with camera positions. “We realized that they had managed to cross the highway using natural corridors, such as small streams, to continue their migration towards the north of the Aude and the Black Mountain. »

How do we recognize it? They all look alike. A single light brown coat, blue eyes, pink nose, a thick tail with a black tip and rings and a dorsal line.

Predator? “Exclusively two,” emphasizes Maxime Belaud. The golden eagle found on the Aude side and the grand duke. In Black Mountain they are protected by forests and never venture into fields. The forest cat has everything to be happy, in southern Tarn. These big cats just need to stop messing around with tame animals.

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