But it has now been revealed that the animals, which have wider ears, shorter whiskers and more “highly developed canine teeth” than domestic cats, are a distinct species.
The animals – known to Corsicans as Ghjattu volpe – are quite rare. There are perhaps as few as 16 of them currently roaming the rocky island.
Pierre Benedetti, chief environmental technician for France’s National Hunting and Wildlife Office (ONCFS) says that the discovery that the cat-fox is a unique species is “wonderful.’
“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,” he said.
“We believe that it’s a wild natural species”
“It’s their size and their tail that earned them the name cat-fox across the island,” he continued.
“By looking at its DNA, we could tell it apart from the European wildcat, Felis silvestris silvestris. It’s close to the African forest cat, Felis silvestris lybica, but its exact identity is still to be determined.”
His colleague, ONCFS field agent in charge of forest cats Carlu-Antone Cecchini, added: ”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”
ONCFS officers trapped the first cat-fox in 2016. Before that the elusive creatures were only seen by sheperds in remote hills, although one “was caught unexpectedly in 2008 in a chicken coop at Olcani in Cap Corse,” reports Benedetti.
The ONCFS has humanely captured around a dozen cat-foxes, releasing them again after a quick examination.
Now, they say, they hope to have the rare creature “recognised and protected” within two to four years.