The National Office for Hunting and Wildlife recently presented its findings to the public earlier this month.
The animal appears similar to a regular cat but a closer look reveals larger ears, more developed teeth, and a black tuft at the tip of its tail.
Pierre Benedetti, one of the researchers and chief environmental technician with the office, said that local legend in Corsica, where the species lives, has detailed the animals for some time, including from shepherds who said the felines were eating goats.
“It’s a very discreet, nocturnal animal,” he told Radio France International.
The first one was caught in a chicken coop in 2008, prompting study. Since then, researchers have identified 16 animals they believe are “cat-foxes.” Twelve of them were captured, examined, and released.
The species eluded scientific study for so long because of its similarity to cats, the researcher said.
“We believe that it’s a wild natural species which was known but not scientifically identified because it’s an extremely inconspicuous animal with nocturnal habits,” he told AFP.
“By looking at its DNA, we could tell it apart from the European wildcat, Felis silvestris silvestris. It’s close to the African forest cat, Felis silvestris lybica, but its exact identity is still to be determined.”
VIDEO: In the Asco forest in Corsica, two agents of the National Hunting and Wildlife Office (ONCFS) show AFP what they think is a new feline species pic.twitter.com/txeLeqzjhw
— AFP news agency (@AFP) June 14, 2019
“It’s their size and their tail that earned them the name ‘cat-fox’ across the island,” he added.
Researchers are still studying the population to try to discern its origin.
“It could’ve arrived at the time of the second human colonization which dates back 6,500 years before our era. If this hypothesis is confirmed, it’s origin would be considered Middle Eastern,” Benedetti told RFI. “Ultimately, we would like to see this cat recognized and protected.”