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Mysterious ‘Cat-Fox’ Discovered Prowling French Island Could Be New Feline Species

A strange fox-like cat discovered on the French island of Corsica has scientists thinking they may have discovered a previously unknown species, Science Alert reported.

The creature, which locals have called ghjattuvolpe (or "cat-fox"), first caught the attention of curious researchers back in 2008.

Up until that point, the feline had only been a local legend passed around by word of mouth for generations.

Unsplash | James Sutton

Residents of the island had rarely seen the cat before, as it prowled the area largely at nighttime, attacking the udders of sheep and goats.

However, a chicken coop ultimately turned out to be all that was needed to capture this elusive cat.

Unsplash | Idella Maeland

Back in 2008, the beast was accidentally trapped in a coop, unintentionally revealing itself to a host of curious locals who were puzzled by its appearance.

This would be the start of over a decade of research into uncovering just what exactly this baffling cat really is.

In 2012, researchers set snares to capture pieces of the mysterious animal's DNA.

Unsplash | Hal Gatewood

The wooden sticks planted around the island lured the cats in with an attractive scent, prompting them to rub their bodies against the dowels and leave behind tufts of their fur. Researchers then used these samples for genetic identification.

The DNA told them that this cat was unlike any feline species they had ever come across before.

Unsplash | Ihtesham Ismail

"By looking at its DNA, we could tell it apart from the European wildcat, Felis silvestris silvestis," said Pierre Benedetti, environmental with France's National Hunting and Wildlife Office (ONCFS) said. "It's close to the African forest cat, F. silvestris lybica, but its exact identity is still to be determined."

The first actual "cat-fox" was captured non-violently by scientists in 2016.

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Since then, there have been a total of 16 others spotted in the area with 12 captured and tagged with electronic chips.

One of the cats was particularly striking with one golden eye and one brown eye, presumably the result of fighting with another male of his own unique species.

The "cat-fox" is baffling to researchers simply because of how it differs from the traditional house cat.

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First, it's definitely much longer than your own cat. These guys can grow up to 90 centimeters (35 inches) long from their head to the tips of their tail, as opposed to average domesticated house cat that grows roughly to about 76 centimeters.

Its teeth are long and canine-like, and its ears are wide-set while its whiskers are unusually short.

Even the feline's coloring and coat makes it stand out from the regular cats that we're used to.

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Its fur is dense to protect it against fleas and ticks. The cats' front legs feature thick stripes while their hind feet are incredibly dark, and their tails have black rings with a black tip.

These cats also have red-colored bellies, making them quite the unique looking feline.

Despite what the name suggests, this isn't actually some strange cat-meets-fox hybrid.

Unsplash | Ray Hennessy

Researchers have emphasized that this particular feline is not actually the result of some inner-species breeding between a cat and a fox.

It would actually be impossible for this kind of hybrid procreation to occur.

Bendetti believes the strange animal may have been brought to the French island years ago by farmers.

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In fact, he speculates that it could originate as far back as 6500 BC in Africa or potentially even the Middle East.

It is believed that the "cat-fox's" main predator is the golden eagle.

Unsplash | Bryan Hanson

Although researchers have been able to gather lots of data surrounding the creature's physical disposition, genetic makeup, and even behavioral traits, there is still much to learn about these mysterious felines.

Bendetti and his team hope to have the animal "recognized and protected" in the next two to four years.

YouTube | AFP news agency

While the creature has been entered into the scientific record, there's still the chance that they might be a hybrid of two other feline species, possibly one of them the Sardinian wildcat.

If this is the case, it's not exactly an unusual way for new species to develop, as it's definitely happened before.

h/t: Science Alert

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