Scotland's forgotten cat; fewer than 100 remain...
Far back in the history of Scotland, the earliest settlers told legends about wildcats so fierce they bested human champions, and worshipped them as forest spirits. Centuries later, clans formed together under the image of the wildcat and fought wars for the independence of the land. Today, as few as 100 remain in the wild, and the extinction of Britain's last large mammal predator could come within the next few years.
Welcome to the Save the Scottish Wildcat website, a resource on all things wildcat and supporter of the Wildcat Haven fieldwork project to save the species in the West Highlands of Scotland.
No feral or farmcat, the wildcat is a true wild species of cat just like a tiger or leopard; it was here long before we were and long before the domestic cat had first been bred by ancient farmers. Infamously the only wild animal to be untameable, even when captive reared, and one of the most elusive creatures in the world, Scottish wildcats may look a little like your pet tabby but these are incredibly tough super-predators capable of surviving Scotland's harshest winters, battling eagles and drawing the admiration of men who bested entire empires.
Tragically, our magnificent wildcats are critically endangered, and the latest surveys suggest less than 100 individuals survive in the wild. Numbers originally decreased due to deforestation and human persecution, but today the primary threat is cross-mating with feral domestic cats, a process called hybridisation. This gradually waters down the true wildcat genes, leaving behind "hybrids" which look a little like wildcats, but behave very differently.
There is still hope; an independent conservation project set up by the Scottish Wildcat Association in 2008 and now continued under the name Wildcat Haven is working in the West Highlands neutering feral cats, researching feline populations and utilising a unique genetic test that identifies wildcats from hybrids and feral cats. Working closely with local communities, conservation and welfare groups Wildcat Haven is the only comprehensive action plan that can save the Scottish wildcat; please give it your support and follow the project online via Facebook, Twitter and the Wildcat Haven website.
On this website you can learn more about Scottish wildcats, what they are, where they come from, the latest news and the history of the conservation effort; learn about the issues and please help spread the word; the survival of these amazing animals is in our hands.
Lots happening lately, and tricky to keep up with. At the end of 2014 SNH announced that 6 months of research across six areas of the Highlands revealed no wildcats, leading to them naming those six areas priorities for wildcat conservation. Much of this research was based on a genetics test from RZSS. RZSS have been criticised for knowingly breeding and marketing hybridised wildcats as the real thing only to neuter them a short while later, and defended their actions based on the same genetics test.
A scientist came forward from the SNH Action Plan stating; "How can they designate an area for wildcat preservation that doesn't actually have traces of any wildcats? How can they claim it is a national survey when vast tracts of the western Highlands were not included? SNH are hiding behind genetics tests which I believe not to be valid as they are based on a small population of European wildcats in Switzerland and none are from pure Scottish wildcats. They have knowingly been breeding a lot of hybrids and then neutering them."
Moving into 2015 the independent Wildcat Haven effort announced further successes expanding their feral cat free zone with more neutering of feral and pet cats, stating that their own genetics test was close to complete after five years of field verification using only Scottish wildcat DNA.
Further controversy appeared around the SNH/RZSS action plan as they attempted a rebrand ("Scottish Wildcat Action") and shuffled around the public facing officers. Welfare group CAPS received a leaked set of minutes from an action plan meeting outlining plans to build a new captive breeding population by drawing animals from the wild, potentially extincting the wildcat in the wild in the process. Endorsing the Haven action plan as the way forward CAPS, Haven and an independent expert spoke out strongly against the SNH plans, particularly as SNH had already announced a priority action zone within the Haven working area; potentially removing pure wildcats from the one safe place they have in the wild.
23/11/2014 Guardian/Observer 'Why the Scottish wildcat is threatened by its saviour'
Strong piece from the Guardian raising issue with SNH's continued approach to wildcat conservation following a run of conflicting stories on what's going on at present. An interesting quote in here includes internal criticism of the RZSS genetics test that was recently used to legitimise captive breeding efforts, so does the test work or not?
15/07/2014 Herald Haven to save the wildcat from total extinction
Phanomenal news from the Wildcat Haven project hacing neutered all the feral and hybrid cats across almost 250 square miles of remote Highlands peninsula; within a few years the populations will collapse leaving just wildcats behind.
28/09/2013 The Guardian Extinction by stealth: how long can the Scottish wildcat survive?
Scottish Natural Heritage launch their wildcat action plan drawing immediate criticism from other conservationists who insist that the plan is a PR whitewashing exercise that cannot possibly save the species. The three page action plan includes the statement "we are seeking to protect a distinct group of cats that look like wildcats, but may not all be genetically pure wildcats."