What’s going on here?
The Scottish wildcat is close to extinction. Most wildcats in the UK are now hybrids: the result of breeding with feral and domestic cats. This summer, the first captive-bred individuals are due to be released into the Scottish highlands.
What does this mean?
NatureScot, a public body of the Scottish Government, has released the results of a five-year study assessing the population of Scottish wildcats. Unfortunately, they show that there are not enough wildcats left to sustain the population. This has occurred since Scottish wildcats have mated with feral and domestic cats over many generations, a process known as hybridisation.
The research included genetic tests, showing that no sampled cats could be considered pure, native wildcats. Camera-trap surveys and public sighting data also confirmed this.
Why should we care?
The Scottish Wildcat is just another example of a native animal in decline thanks to human activity. Other threats faced by wildcats are habitat loss due to land management, disease and road collision. These threats are faced by Scottish wildcats and hybrid wildcats alike, and both are protected regardless of genetic purity.
The Saving Wildcats (#SWAforLife) partnership has been breeding wildcats in captivity for release into the wild, in a bid to restore the population. Last month, a licence was approved to release captively bred Scottish wildcats into the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland this summer. The project will work with cat owners, farmers and local communities to protect captively-bred animals from the above threats.
· Check out this article from last year to see footage of the captively-bred Scottish wildcat kittens!
· Scottish Wildcats are important predators. From the Curious Archives, read how protecting and restoring animal populations can fight climate change.
· You can still be a mindful cat lover! It’s better to rescue a cat if you can, and consider the native biodiversity of your local area before letting your cat outdoors. Read more here about the impact of cat predation on rodents, insects and birds. And here for advice from the Curious Archives on sustainable pet ownership.