A new specialised breeding facility created to help save the critically endangered Scottish wildcat from extinction has been unveiled in the Highlands.
Specially designed enclosures have been set up at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) wildlife park near Kingussie as part of the first ever national conservation plan for the iconic native cat.
Experts believe there are fewer than 300 of the animals, nicknamed the Highland tiger, left in the wild in Scotland.
Key threats to the species come from interbreeding with feral domestic cats, as well as disease and accidental persecution. Scottish Wildcat Action, a joint initiative involving more than 20 organisations from the conservation, science and land management sectors, has been set up to halt their decline.
The project, which is funded by the Scottish Government and Heritage Lottery Fund, is working to reduce threats in six wildcat priority areas by vaccinating and neutering feral cats, breeding wildcats for later release and contributing new research.
The new enclosures, which will not be on show to the public, have been officially opened by Scottish environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham.
She said: “It is fantastic to see so many organisations coming together to save the iconic Scottish wildcat,” she said.
“Scottish Wildcat Action represents the best chance the wildcat has of surviving in the long term.”
Barbara Smith, acting chief executive of the RZSS, said: “The off-show conservation breeding programme at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park has an essential role to play in ensuring that one of our most endangered mammals has a long-term future in Scotland.
“We are committed to working closely with our partners in Scottish Wildcat Action to tackle the multiple threats facing the species in the wild.”
Eileen Stuart, head of policy and advice for Scottish Natural Heritage and chair of Scottish Wildcat Action, said: “With the formal opening of the conservation breeding enclosures today, and having recently concluded the largest ever survey into the Scottish wildcat, Scottish Wildcat Action is taking the necessary steps to safeguard the species from extinction.”