Kittens offer hope for survival of iconic Scottish wildcat population

Two rare Scottish wildcats born at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo may help provide a lifeline for the iconic species.

The kittens will join a conservation breeding programme which it is hoped will save the species from extinction in the wild through future reintroductions

David Barclay, RZSS cat conservation project officer, said, “Scottish wildcats are facing severe threats due to cross-breeding with domestic and feral cats, disease transfer and accidental persecution.

“Wildcat populations have suffered a sharp decline in Scotland in recent decades with studies suggesting there may be as few as 115 Scottish wildcats left in the wild, making them one of the UK’s most endangered mammals.

“Our conservation breeding programme and work with partners in Scottish Wildcat Action, the national conservation project, is therefore vital.

“Every birth is a potential lifeline and improves the chances of a genetically healthy population that can act as a source for future wildcat release.”

Born in April, the kittens have recently started to emerge from their den and explore their habitat.

Although some similarities with domestic tabby cats exist, the two are not to be confused. The Scottish wildcat is the same species of wildcat found in continental Europe but has been separate since the end of the last ice age, around 9,000 years ago.

With their big, bushy, black-ringed tail and tenacious behaviour it is no surprise the animal was used historically in many Highland clan crests.

It remains one of the rarest cat species in the world and is critically endangered in the wild.

Despite surviving human persecution for more than 1,500 years diminishing habitats mean there are very few genuine Wild Cats left in the wild.

RZSS is a key partner in Scottish Wildcat Action, the first national project to save the highly threatened species from extinction. Scottish Wildcat Action brings together more than 20 other organisations in the conservation, scientific and land management communities.