More than 100 felines have been captured as part of an effort to save the endangered Scottish wildcat from extinction.
Project officers, contractors and dozens of volunteers helped catch 115 cats across an area spanning 676 square miles.
Scottish Wildcat Action’s (SWA) Trap Neuter Vaccinate Return programme was carried out in priority areas in northern Scotland, including Morvern, Strathpeffer, Strathbogie, northern Strathspey and the Angus glens.
Feral cats present a threat to wildcats by mating with them, so the team spent 364 nights catching strays for neutering.
Roo Campbell, priority areas manager for the SWA, said: “Cross-breeding is diluting the wildcat gene pool and, as a result, they are losing their distinct adaptations to the harsh Scottish environment.
“Neutering and vaccinating domestic cats is the best way to protect them and we are very proud of our success this year. We are committed to this work and we have a lot more work to do before the wildcat is truly safe.”
Eighty-two of the captured cats were taken to a vet for treatment and later returned.
Twelve feral kittens were rehomed, seven cats were either pet cats or had been neutered previously and two were possible wildcats that were released without neutering.
The remaining 12 feral felines tested positive for disease or were in such poor condition they had to be put down on welfare grounds.
Neutered domestic cats are released rather than culled because this may help wildcat populations recover in the long-term.
Dr Campbell said: “If a wild-living cat is neutered and returned to the wild, it maintains a territory and keeps other feral cats from moving into the area. This allows wildcats to breed only with other wildcats.
“We hope this will reduce the risk of disease from migrating feral cats, while over time a new generation of wildcats will replace the neutered feral cats.”
There are as few as 100 wildcats in existence, according to Save the Scottish Wildcat.
SWA is calling on cat owners to help turn their pets into “supercats” by having them neutered, vaccinated and micro-chipped.
Three Scottish wildcat kittens were born at Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie in April. The new kittens’ arrival means the Royal Zoological Society Scotland centre has reared 20 new wildcats in the past four years.