Scottish Wildcat Action brings together the UK’s top wildcat experts in a bid to save this critically endangered native species.
Scottish wildcats are one of Scotland’s last remaining native predators, but continued threats have left the population on the very edge of extinction.
Top threats to Scottish wildcats include:
- Hybridisation – also known as interbreeding, this is when wildcats mate with domestic feral or pet cats. Decades of hybridisation has led to there being very few genetically-pure wildcats left. With estimates for the population of feral cats in the UK ranging from 800,000 up to 1.5 million, this is a threat that is very hard to manage.
- Disease – feral domestic cats are often in poor health and they can spread parasites and disease to Scottish wildcats. As the numbers of feral cats increases unchecked, disease and parasites are easily spread.
- Accidental persecution – feral cats can present a problem for land managers rearing game birds. Gamekeepers carry out legal predator control to reduce their numbers, but run the risk of killing or harming wildcats by mistake due to their similar appearance.
To tackle these threats, Project Officers from the Scottish Wildcat Action team have identified several key priority areas where, as well as doing camera-trap surveys, they are conducting an intensive trap, neuter, vaccinate and release programme. They are also encouraging pet owners to neuter, vaccinate and microchip their cats, and are working with farmers and land managers to train them how to identify wildcats from feral domestic cats to reduce the risk of accidental persecution. Finally, a conservation breeding programme has begun at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland for later releasing into the wild in order to bolster population numbers.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust is one of more than 20 organisations signed up to this 5-year project and provides support with project communications and campaigns.