Research & activities

Lure Sticks method in the National Park Thayatal

Lure sticks are set up based on the evaluation of the potential habitats. In preparation, the involved staff had to undergo training on material and choice of micro-locations. They use rough stakes on which valerian baits are fixed. Wildcats love that smell and rub themselves against the rough wood. The hairs left on it are collected once a week during the mating season (January to April) and undergo a genetic analysis.

Research methods: Genetic analysis

Criminological methods provide evidence

Wildcats avoid being close to people, they are active at night and downright shy. They have a perfect camouflage coat and predominantly stick to the thicket, even while hunting. They are difficult to distinguish from a tabby domestic cat.
This is why the detection of wildcats is so difficult. Catching them with box traps is very complicated/time-consuming, stressful for the captured animals and requires constant professional supervision. It is easier to deploy photo traps, but a differentiation from the house cat is often impossible with the resulting pictures. Even the paw prints are hard to differentiate.
The lure sticks method is a simple but reliable way to obtain hair samples and thus genetic material from wildcats. The leader of the project, Thomas Mölich, and his colleagues have tested and further developed the lure sticks method in the last years in many wildcat areas in Germany.
The material gathered in transparent sample bags is presorted. Wild boar hairs, which are easy to recognize, and other similar non typical hair samples are removed. The hair samples are sent to the research institute Senckenberg in Germany.
Before the genetic analysis, the DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) contained only in minuscule traces in the hair must be extracted and amplified for the planned analysis. The latter happens via the so-called PCR-method (Polymerase Chain Reaction).
To clarify if the samples belong to a domestic cat or a wildcat, the base pairs of the mitochondrial DNA are examined along a precise section (sequencing) that shows characteristic differences between house cats and wildcats.
The base sequence found in the hair sample can then be compared to many known samples from domestic and wildcats. Depending on how the samples resemble the reference samples, they can be classified as belonging to a domestic cat, a wildcat or a crossbreed.
Five hairs collected between April and June 2007 in the Thayatal correspond to the well-known wildcat samples. Moreover, according to the found DNA sequences, it is certain that the five samples come from at least two animals. In 2008, two further wildcat evidences were provided.

Final report of the research project in the National Park Thayatal

A habitat for the wildcat?

To find out if the Thayatal is an appropriate habitat, the living spaces of the transborder National Park Thayatal-Podyjí were examined and the suitability of their natural environment assessed. A habitat rating on a five-point scale was carried out by the German zoologist Thomas Mölich, based on the cartographic background of aerial pictures and on his expert knowledge.

Wildcat Reporting Office

An Austria-wide reporting office for evidence and sightings of wildcats was established. People who have information on wildcats can forward it in a quick and non-bureaucratic way. That information is an important contribution to research on the status of wildcats in Austria, which for a long time have been considered extinct or lost.

Reporting Office:
Sarah Friembichler
Tel.: + 43 (0)681/20 40 86 87
Fax: + 43 (0)662/643734-4

Online questionnaire for wildcat sightings (in german language)