A ‘catch’ of the rare cat in the UK is set to become more common after scientists have discovered a breeding pair.
The researchers say the cat, known only as Cheshire Cat, is the most common of its kind in Europe and the only species of cat that has been found in the region.
Scientists said they have identified breeding pairs of the cat and found a single breeding site in Cornwall, the south of England.
A total of five breeding sites have been identified in England and Wales and in Wales alone there are currently five breeding pairs.
The scientists, from the University of Bristol, said the two-year-old male Cheshire is a male with white-coloured eyes and white markings.
“These markings are very distinctive and have the appearance of having been drawn by an experienced breeder,” said Dr Simon Grosjean from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at the University.
“The white markings on his tail are actually the only ones that are distinctive.”
The males in this breed are very small, about a third of the size of a large cat, and they’re only around 3.5 to 5cm long, so they’re very easy to find.
“It’s very important to note that they are not reproducing and there is no indication that this is a rare cat.”
When we first spotted this male, we had no idea where he was breeding, and as we found more and more of these males, we realised that he’s been in Cornwall for at least four years.
“The scientists have named him Cheshire.
Dr Grosjanne said: “It’s a very special cat, with a very distinctive appearance.”
We have no idea what causes the distinctive white markings, but it’s likely to be linked to the fact that the males of this breed have been around in Cornwall and that they’re now in a relatively fertile condition in their range, so we think they’re more likely to have had a successful breeding than to have been in a stable environment.”
The team of scientists, who include Prof Simon Grooms, also said that the species may be extinct, but that it’s still a viable species and one that could be reintroduced into the UK.
Dr Robert Williams, from Bristol University, said: “[The breeders] are not yet very well informed about what’s going on with their species, so the only thing that they know is that it has a relatively short lifespan.”
He added: “They probably need to take the cat to the vet for a behavioural assessment, but once they’ve done that they should be able to breed it successfully.”
Dr Grosjaean said: ‘It is very important that we get this species back into the wild as soon as possible.
“There is no way that we can reintroduce it into the country if we can’t find a breeding site.”
This is an important and rare cat, but there are probably very few other species of cats in the world that can do this.
“If you look at the breeding sites we have identified, it is the only breeding site that we’ve found that has any signs of the cats having survived in Cornwall.”
Read more: BBC Breakfast’s Catherine Wall speaks to wildlife conservationists on the plight of the Cheshire cat