Saving Scotland’s Wildcats: Last-Ditch Effort Features Release Of Pure-Bred Wildcats In Highlands

Scotland’s wildcats are facing extinction and a last-ditch effort is being mounted to avert that fate. Saving Scotland’s wildcats won’t be easy.

According to The Guardian the exhaustive effort involves releasing purebred wildcats into secret sites in the Scottish Highlands. The cats must also be monitored and protected if possible.

lake near trees and mountains
The Scottish Highlands are a location steeped in history and romance. Scottish conservationists are saving Scotland;s wildcats from extinction, Photo by Adrian RA on

One of the biggest threats is breeding with feral domestic cats. Those cats in the region must be identified, caught and neutered.

The paper said the project is being run by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. They expect to introduce up to 60 specially bred cats into the wild over the next three years. The cats come from a wildcat breeding program run in cooperation with the society.

Deforestation and breeding with feral domestic cats are two of the biggest challenges threating saving Scotland’s wildcats. Traffic crashes and human persecution are also serious problems. Traffic is a serious threat worldwide.

African Wildcat or Serval by Luigi
Wildcats strongly resemble tabby housecats.

Understanding of cat genetics is evolving and names and relationships are being revised. Currently it is believed there are two wildcat species. Felis sylvestris is the European wildcat and Felis lybica is the African wildcat. That cat is probably the ancestor of domestic cats. However, a recent proposal suggests another subspecies is found on Corsica. Corsica is an island off the coast of France and the cat is locally known as the “Corsican cat fox.”

curious cat walking on snowy meadow
Wildcats are thought to have “self-domesticated.” They were attracted to the first granaries and forged a powerful relation with people. Photo by Skyler Ewing on Wildcat or feral domestic? Hard to tell at a glance.

In general wildcats are “least concern” according to the International Union for Conservation of nature (IUCN). They are widespread on the African and Eurasian continents. However, local populations, such as in Scotland, can be in danger of extinction. The cats are about the size of the cat in your lap (OK, an assumption) and strongly resemble a striped tabby. The fact that they can interbreed easily with domestic cats renders their future somewhat less certain.

Scotland’s wildcats have been under study for years. By 2019 the number of purebred wildcats in the region had dipped so low as to risk extinction.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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