Saving the ‘Highland Tiger’

Banner image courtesy of Saving Wildcats

Saving Wildcats (building on the work of the previous body, Scottish Wildcat Action) launched a project in 2020 dedicated to the conservation and recovery of the endangered Scottish Wildcat (the ‘Highland Tiger’) species. Saving Wildcats aims “to prevent the extinction of wildcats in Scotland by breeding and releasing them into the wild” in conjunction with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park in the Cairngorms National Park:

“A sad history of habitat loss, persecution, and, more recently, breeding with domestic cats [hybridisation] has forced the Highland Tiger to a point where the population is no longer viable…..Without urgent action, wildcats will be lost forever from Britain” – Saving Wildcats

The current [Scottish Wildcat] population estimation ranges from 30 to 430 individuals, with a further decreasing trend….All the robust information available indicates that the wildcat in Scotland is at the verge of extinction. Based on the available information, we consider the wildcat population in Scotland to be no longer viable. The number of wildcats is too small, the hybridisation too far advanced and the population too fragmented. We therefore conclude that it is too late to conserve the wildcat in Scotland as a stand-alone population” – Wildcat in Scotland – Review of Conservation Status and Activities,” Urs Breitenmoser, Tabea Lanz and Christine Breitenmoser-Würsten, IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Cat Specialist Group, February 2019

Despite the precarious existence of the Scottish Wildcat as a native, wild species, they are afforded little  protection in reality – for example, it is suggested that game keeping (ref. para. 2.3) has historically threatened wildcats on some ‘sporting’ estates as a form of accidental (indiscriminate spot-light shooting (lamping) for controlling feral cats), or otherwise predator control, shooting and snaring despite the species’ legal protection granted in 1988 (the wildcat was added to Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 receiving full protection (ref para. 2.4 – Note: “The current impact of persecution and accidental killing on the wildcat population are unknown” – IUCN report, 2019).

Awareness of the precarious plight of the Scottish Wildcat has been raised in the past week by a kitten (named ‘Huntleigh’) suffering with pneumonia found in the frozen landscape and taken to the vets ((Strathspey Veterinary Practice) in nearby Grantown-on-Spey, Moray, Scotland – the kitten was identified at the vets as a possible Scottish Wildcat kitten:

A spokesperson from Saving Wildcats, the partnership project dedicated to wildcat conservation in Scotland, said the only way to establish if Huntleigh was a pure Scottish Wildcat is through DNA testing” – Strathspey Herald, 17 January 2020

The two men, Peter Macnab and his friend Piotr Peretko carried Huntleigh more than three miles to get treatment at the vets in Grantown – Strathspey Herald, 14 January 2020

Sadly, Huntleigh succumbed to her condition on 17 January.

Let’s hope there remains a bright future for the Scottish Wildcat as a native wild species, acknowledging and supporting the efforts of all those seeking to make that future a secure one.

The first step has been to build Britain’s first large-scale breeding centre for wildcats. Situated in a secluded part of the Cairngorms National Park, construction has progressed well and the first cats should start breeding in 2021,” Saving Wildcats, 11 December 2020 – “The project could eventually see up to 20 captive-bred wildcats a year released into the Cairngorms, one of the last strongholds for the species. The first cats could be released in 2022, ” BBC News, 18 December 2020.

Further Reading

In memory of Huntleigh the Wildcat kitten,” GoFundMe (in aid of Saving Wildcats)

Record year for Scottish wildcat captive breeding,” BBC News, 18 December 2020

The Scottish Wildcat programme (“our resident hybrid Scottish wildcats“) operated by Highland Titles

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