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Photo traps reveal new populations of wildcat in Catalonia


The wildcat passes in the dark. Its coat reminds of a domestic short-haired cat.

Photo,Josep Puig.

In the Catalan region in the northwest Iberian Peninsula, scientists and naturalists are working together, to find new populations of wildcats that have remained undiscovered for decades.

Thanks to this project—which relies on expert identification of night-time pictures taken by photo traps—biologists are now aware of two previously unknown populations of wildcat from the region. These results were published in the Catalan-language journal Butlletí de la Institució Catalana d’Història Natural (ICHN), by a team co-led by University of Gothenburg researcher Dr. Ferran Sayol.

Big cats, like lions or tigers, are some of the most emblematic and well-known animals, but the great majority of the world’s 40 different cat species are small, shy creatures. The European wildcat (Felis silvestris) is an example of this. It lives in mixed forests of central and southern Europe, but because these wildcats are both shy and nocturnal, scientists have a hard time spotting them. This has earned them the nickname "forest ghosts.”

Because humans rarely encounter wildcats, camera traps are a useful tool to learn about the species. To gather data, cameras are placed along small paths in the forest where they can be triggered by animal movement. Using this technique, a group of volunteers, led by University of Gothenburg’s Dr. Ferran Sayol and Autonomous University of Barcelona masters’ student Marc Vilella, found the new wildcat populations in places where information was previously scare and unreliable.

Ferran Sayol puts up a photo trap with a colleague“Since 2013, we have been setting these traps in new areas, outside of the places that we know wildcats live. This has led to some exciting surprises!”, says Dr.Sayol, currently a post-doc in the University of Gothenburg and member of the Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Centre (GGBC). He says that this information will be valuable to update the known range of the wildcat in Catalonia and, consequently, to assess its conservation status more accurately.

“With the help of these volunteer naturalists, we can study many more locations and increase the number of people involved in the project” – adds Marc Vilella. The volunteers that participate in the project typically put the cameras near their homes or in regions they know well. They are driven by the reward of these exciting discoveries, and learning which species were “captured” by the camera.

After this initial success, the project received economic support from the Barcelona Zoo. This year, the camera traps will be placed in even more territories to further monitor wildcat populations, with support from new, passionate volunteers.

You can find the original article, in Catalan, at

Contact details: Dr. Ferran Sayol,, +34680130610

Photo: Josep Puig.