But in fact, European forests, mountains, swamps and islands are home to a variety of felines that have adapted to human civilization or taken advantage of the remaining wild pockets of nature.
The largest of all is the Iberian lynx. In Spain, we follow the parallel lives of a male and a female. Typically crepuscular, they are active and hunt rabbits at dawn and dusk. They often sleep during the day in dense thickets and other safe hiding places; they are good climbers and will use trees and high rocks as places to lay up, watch for prey and even launch ambush hunts. Our individuals are solitary… however their territories overlap: they carry out some form of communication through scent marks left around their borders … before they finally meet and mate to give birth to the next generation in an abandoned barn. Conservation efforts have managed to bring back this charismatic cat from the brink of extinction in several dedicated pockets of farm land that have undergone rewilding.
In the Canary Islands, domestic cats turn wild during mating season. We follow the destiny of a red female who leaves the comfort of her house overlooking the harbor to cross the countryside to meet Tom cats in the white and blue streets of the village… and mate multiple times, with multiple partners. On her way back, she is met by a surprise: a volcano erupts engulfing countless homes. Will she find her way back to the comfort of her home? Islanders have developed a strange love-hate relationship with these cats: they either kill the black ones during Halloween as they are suspected of bringing bad luck, or risk their lives to rescue the stray cats surrounded by poisonous volcanic gas or destructive lava flows.
Although the European wildcat (Felis silvestris) or forest cat was once very common, it fell victim to intensive hunting in the 19th Century, to hybridization with domestic cats and to the massive deforestation that cut back its natural habitat, resulting in its disappearance in some parts of Europe. Meet some surviving wildcats who survive in the forests of Jura, in eastern France. Their skulls are larger, their hind legs are shorter and stronger and their fur is thicker than domestic cats, giving them a compact, chunky look. After mating in winter, we follow a female who gives birth to three kittens, before raising them for six months. She never actually teaches them the art of catching squirrels, rabbits or bull frogs: they hunt instinctively and refine their skills by trial and error. Campaigns to sterilize domestic cats living near farms or close to forests have drastically reduced the opportunities for hybridization on the fringes of wildcat territories.