AboutZoos, Since 2008


Crit­i­cally endan­gered Scot­tish wild­cat kit­tens born at High­land Wildlife Park — Scotland

pub­lished 22 July 2015 | mod­i­fied 22 July 2015

Scottish wildcat kittenThe Royal Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Scot­land (RZSS) High­land Wildlife Park wel­comed three young Scot­tish wild­cat kit­tens to the Park, last April. Also known as the High­land Tiger, this incred­i­bly rare, native species is fac­ing the very real threat of extinc­tion due to hybridi­s­a­tion with domes­tic and feral cats, habi­tat loss and acci­den­tal per­se­cu­tion. How­ever, with coor­di­nated con­ser­va­tion efforts and a new con­ser­va­tion breed­ing pro­gramme for even­tual release now estab­lished, the future for the species is look­ing much brighter.

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
David Bar­clay, RZSS Cat Con­ser­va­tion Project Officer »

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. 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 com­mented on the recent arrivals: “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.”

The Scot­tish Wild­cat

Although some sim­i­lar­i­ties with domes­tic tabby cats exist, the two species are not to be con­fused. With their big, bushy, black-​ringed tail and tena­cious behav­iour it is no sur­prise that the Scot­tish wild­cat was used his­tor­i­cally in many High­land clan crests. The Scot­tish wild­cat is an incred­i­bly rare and elu­sive crea­ture, thought to be crit­i­cally endan­gered, it is clear there is an imme­di­ate need for effec­tive con­ser­va­tion mea­sures across the whole of Scot­land. All of the dif­fer­ent wild­cat species across the world are endan­gered for sim­i­lar rea­sons, how­ever the Scot­tish wild­cat is one of the rarest cats in the world and is prob­a­bly the near­est to extinc­tion.

The Scot­tish wild­cat is the same sub­species of wild­cat as is found in con­ti­nen­tal Europe, but has been sep­a­rated from them since the end of the last ice age, over 8000 years ago. Domes­tic cats orig­i­nate from Near East­ern (African) wild­cats and have been through a process of domes­ti­ca­tion. Hence they have a quite sep­a­rate evo­lu­tion­ary his­tory to Scot­tish wild­cats and behave quite dif­fer­ently. Wild­cats pre­fer to live alone but will come together for a short period for breed­ing, nor­mally then giv­ing birth to around two to three kit­tens, which the mother will pro­tect fiercely.

Scot­tish Wild­cat at The High­land Wildlife Park — As part of ‘Love Your Wildlife Park week’ in 2013 and to cel­e­brate the Year of Nat­ural Scot­land, The High­land Wildlife Park pro­duced a short series of infor­ma­tive videos on some of the native species at the park. In this video, the Scot­tish Wild­cat is intro­duced:

(Source: RZSS High­land Wildlife Park YouTube channel)

Addi­tional infor­ma­tion: pdfScot­tish Wild­cat Con­ser­va­tion Action Plan

(Source: RZSS High­land Wildlife Park news release, 22.07.2015)

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Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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