SCOTLAND’s Highland Wildlife Park has welcomed three rare wildcat kittens.
The animals are a native species and are faced with the very real threat of extinction due to hybridisation with domestic and feral cats, habitat loss and accidental persecution.
But, with coordinated conservation efforts and a new conservation breeding programme for eventual release now established, the future for the species is looking much brighter, according to keepers.
The three young kittens were born at the end of April, but spent the first couple of months safely tucked away in their den with their mother Betidh, only recently starting to wander out and explore their territory.
This year’s births add to a long line of successful breeding at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, which has been instrumental in maintaining a healthy captive population which acts as a safety net for the species.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, along with more than 20 other organisations, is involved in the Scottish Wildcat Action, a partnership project - supported by Scottish Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund - which represents the best chance the wildcat has of surviving in the long term.
Without Scottish Wildcat Action the future of the Scottish wildcat is bleakDavid Barclay
The project includes many of Scotland’s leading conservationists, working together with local people to save the Scottish wildcat.
The Priority Areas Team, which is part of the project, is working hard to reduce the threats that wildcats face in the wild, which includes extensive neutering of feral and poor hybrid cats to prevent further hybridisation, whilst the Royal Zoological Society is undertaking a new conservation breeding programme to build up a robust and sustainable population for future release.
David Barclay, RZSS Cat Conservation Project Officer said: “Without Scottish Wildcat Action the future of the Scottish wildcat is bleak.
“The team is working hard all over Scotland to ensure measures are put in place to reduce threats, raise awareness and protect the remaining wild population.
“With such a small and declining population another important element to our action plan is establishing a new conservation breeding programme to increase numbers for future re-introductions.
“The high standards of husbandry and breeding success from animal keepers at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park are an asset to the breeding programme, and important genes from these new arrivals may one day be represented in released cats roaming the wilds of Scotland.”