Scottish wildcat action
Sadly, Scottish wildcats are one of the country’s most endangered mammals, having been pushed to the edge of extinction
Wildcats are striking, handsome and powerful, the very essence of a wild predator. Sadly, Scottish wildcats are one of the country’s most endangered mammals, having been pushed to the edge of extinction. Urgent action is needed to save this native species before it is lost forever.
Scottish wildcats look similar to large tabby cats but have a number of key differences, including a thick tail with a blunt, black tip and black rings along its length. They also have a wide black stripe running along their back, and stripes along their flanks and forehead. Scottish wildcats are also more heavily set than domestic cats, with some large males weighing up to 8kg.
Though once present across most of Britain, our last remaining native cat species now survives only in parts of the Scottish Highlands, where its main threat comes from feral cats. It is thought that there are more than 800,000 feral cats in the UK, though some estimates are as high as 1.5 million.
The main problem is hybridisation (interbreeding) of Scottish wildcats with feral cats because it dilutes the gene pool and increases the risk of disease. To help combat this issue, an extensive programme of humanely trapping feral cats, neutering and vaccinating them, before releasing them back into the wild began in spring 2016.
RSPB Scotland is a partner of Scottish Wildcat Action - the first national conservation plan with a vision to restore viable populations of Scottish wildcats north of the Highland line.
- Working with local people in wildcat priority areas of the Scottish Highlands to reduce the risks of hybridisation, disease and accidental persecution
- Breeding healthy wildcats for later release to bolster the population through a conservation breeding programme
- Gathering extensive data and sharing findings to improve understanding of Scottish wildcats
- Restoring viable populations of the Scottish wildcat to the Highlands by 2020.
- January 2016: 300 trail cameras in key areas of the Highlands went live, as the largest ever survey of Scottish wildcats officially began.
Scottish Wildcat Action has identified six wildcat priority areas in the Scottish Highlands - Morvern, Strathpeffer, Strathbogie, Strathavon, Northern Strathspey and the Angus Glens.
Staff and volunteers are working with local people and land managers in these areas, as well as running an extensive Trap Neuter Vaccinate and Release programme (TNVR). TNVR humanely traps feral cats and obvious hybrids, neuters and vaccinates them, then releases them back into the wild. This significantly increases the chances of the Scottish wildcats which remain breeding only with other wildcats.
Scottish Wildcat Action is also part of a comprehensive breeding for release programme, led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) at the Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig, Inverness-shire.
RZSS staff will be working closely with land managers and communities across Scotland to find a small but suitable number of wildcats which will act as the foundation for a robust and viable captive population. These animals will be housed in large-scale natural enclosures at the park (and in various partner locations) away from public view, where the cats' natural behaviours will be encouraged to increase the chances of breeding success and prepare their offspring for future release.
Scottish Wildcat Action is funded by the Scottish Government and Heritage Lottery Fund, and supported by more than 20 partners in the conservation, scientific and land management communities. This includes a steering group made up of Scottish Natural Heritage, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), Cairngorms National Park Authority, Forestry Commission Scotland, National Museums Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Scottish Gamekeepers' Association and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.