RZSS is a key partner in Scottish Wildcat Action, the first national project to save the highly endangered Scottish wildcat from extinction (following on from the successful Highland Tiger project, which RZSS was also a partner in). We want to protect our last remaining native cat species in Britain because it is one of few predators left and performs an important function in a healthy ecosystem. It has also long been part of our cultural heritage in Scotland, with many clan crests featuring the iconic cat.
The project is funded by Scottish Government and Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as its 22 partners in the conservation, scientific and land management communities. Scottish Wildcat Action aims to restore viable populations of Scottish wildcats in the Scottish Highlands, which are coming under threat from hybridisation with feral domestic cats, disease and accidental persecution. We will work across Scotland to both reduce threats in the wild and breed wildcats for later release.
The two main programmes of work are:
Wildcat priority areas
There are five identified wildcat priority areas in the Scottish Highlands. These are Morvern, Strathpeffer, Strathbogie, Northern Strathspey and the Angus Glens. Scottish Wildcat Action staff and volunteers carry out threat removal work in situ within these areas, including an extensive Trap Neuter Vaccinate and Release programme (TNVR). The field teams also carry out extensive camera trap monitoring projects to ensure any threats can be identified and controlled but also to ensure locations of any wildcats can be protected. During this work the team collects camera trap images, pelage images and biological samples to ensure that wildcats that remain are breeding only with other wildcats and reduces the risk of disease transmission between the species. In addition to threat removal SWA staff have also been supporting project partners to carry out GPS collaring and monitoring of suspected wildcats. Data from this work will be incredibly beneficial to future conservation efforts especially those related to population reinforcement.
Conservation breeding for release
RZSS lead on the conservation breeding programme, which is one of many key components to the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan. We have managed the Scottish wildcat studbook (captive population database) and breeding programme since 2015 and have over 30 years’ experience in managing and breeding the species. Through management of the breeding programme we ensure that the captive population, which is spread across multiple zoos and wildlife parks in the UK, continues to prosper to ensure it remains as a conservation support tool for the species. Between 2015 and 2018, the captive population increased by over 25% with several new zoo collections joining the programme. In 2017 we carried out genetic screening of all the captive breeding wildcats to ensure all future breeding would take place with the best animals. We also carried out one of the first molecular studbooks to ensure that the data being used for captive population analysis was accurate and effective. We continue to work with landowners to carry out opportunistic surveys and, where needed, to protect wildcats in areas of threats by housing them in large off-show enclosures at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park. These enclosures allow the natural expression of wild behaviors whilst providing an ideal environment for conservation breeding for release.
Can you help the Scottish wildcat?
The wildcat’s survival now hangs tenuously on a dramatic plan to create a National Wildlife Reintroductions Centre, in the Cairngorms National Park. This state-of-the-art breeding facility will bring together wildcat experts, a dedicated veterinary unit, and a specialised pre-release training programme, focusing initially on wildcats, yet with the flexibility to help other priority species in the future.