Hopes rise of wildcat survival as kittens caught on camera

Wildcat kittens have been captured on camera by a project set up to protect numbers of the rare species.

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Early results from trail cameras in wildcat priority areas throughout Scotland, installed by Scottish Wildcat Action, have shown a number of kittens however it is unclear whether they are Scottish wildcats or hybrids – a cat which contains a significant amount of domestic cat heritage alongside its wildcat ancestry.

Scottish Wildcat Action is a national conservation effort to save the critically endangered Scottish wildcat and launched in 2015. It is led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and comprises a partnership of 20 organisations.

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The species’ conservation is an important feature of the Scottish Government’s 2020 Biodiversity Challenge.

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Scottish wildcats are one of the UK’s most endangered species. And the wildcat work is one of the key projects in the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy which aims to support the Scottish Government strategic objectives for a wealthier, fairer, healthier, smarter, greener, safer and stronger country.

Emma Rawling, project officer for Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) for Strathbogie and Strathavon, Aberdeenshire, said: “We have a number of potential wildcat kittens spotted on-camera and there have also been sightings recorded by people.

“This is the time of year some lucky people catch a glimpse of wildcat families, and the kittens usually reach independence in autumn and face a difficult first winter finding their own territory.

“It is very difficult to tell a wildcat kitten from a domestic tabby cat kitten. Distinctive markings and stripes of a wildcat that we use to identify them when they are adults develop over the first few months so identifying kittens is usually reliant on clues from the cat’s parentage or, if possible, a DNA test.”

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And highly encouraging results also continue to flow in after the launch of a new wildcat app which allows people to report sightings of possible wildcats.

Launched by Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform earlier this month, sightings can be reported online.

App users can report sightings of wildcats, hybrids and feral cats and, once verified, a sighting will be displayed on a map of Scotland

So far there have been 25 reported sightings and, while many will be feral cats, it is hoped some could be Scottish wildcats.

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Roo Campbell, SWA’s project manager, said: “There have been 25 sightings to date so almost as many as was reported in all the time since 2011 before we took the app over.

“We anticipate that there will be more sightings as a result of people using the sightings app, and we would ask the people of Scotland to keep recording sightings of potential wildcats.”

Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) and the Mammal Society are behind the new app.

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