Wildcat Haven, which operates two field conservation sites for the Scottish wildcat in the West Highlands, has discovered an isolated population of pure Scottish wildcats in Aberdeenshire, where the majority of conservation experts claimed they no longer existed.
Wildcat Haven, a decade-long conservation project for Scottish wildcats which has focused on creating safe havens for the species in the West Highlands, has revealed the first ever video evidence of a pure wildcat, filmed in Aberdeenshire.
Most experts considered the wildcat extinct in the East Highlands; lost to a process of cross-mating with domestic cats, called hybridisation. Scottish Natural Heritage projects have failed to find any cat not showing signs of hybridisation, leading to their assertion on national TV that the best hope laid in the also-hybridised captive population.
Wildcat Haven has never given up the quest for the pure Scottish wildcat, one of the rarest animals in the world, identifying numerous potential wildcats in the West Highlands which never came quite close enough to the camera for full verification.
Responding to eye witness sightings from the East Highlands, Wildcat Haven appointed a local project manager, Kevin Bell, to begin a targeted survey which quickly confirmed a small population of very high purity wildcats. The latest cat caught in video footage is the first living wildcat to score full marks on a 21-point scale used to identify wildcat purity; the exceptional quality of the cat has been verified by an independent expert at the National Museums of Scotland.
“We’ve been closely monitoring key sites in Aberdeenshire over the last couple of years having picked up good accounts of an isolated population in the area.” explains Dr Paul O’Donoghue, Chief Scientific Advisor for Wildcat Haven, “SNH have already spent a huge sum of money carrying out survey work in the region turning up little of real value, but Kev went out with just three camera traps and immediately started returning images of these stunning cats.
“It feels a bit like looking at a unicorn,” comments O’Donoghue on the video, “this animal is so often described as extinct, bordering on mythical, but we have always been confident they’re still out there, and here’s the evidence coming from quite an unexpected place.
“No one has ever seen a wildcat this good in the wild before, it shows no signs of hybridisation and proves that Scotland’s iconic wildcat, an incredible survivor, is still out there despite all odds. We must protect it from the threat of hybridisation, but also from the government action plan; licensed to capture wildcats for a captive breeding program which has a dismal track record of producing hybridised and neutered display animals.’’
Wildcat Haven is currently establishing a monitoring and domestic cat neutering programme in Aberdeenshire to protect the small population in-situ. Project manager Kevin Bell, who will be spearheading these efforts, commented, “These ghost-cats deserve to live in the wild, not in a cage for people to gawp at. They’re remote, they’ve stayed hidden and survived, and we’ll do everything we can to ensure it stays that way. Along with the wildcats in the West Highlands havens, these are the best chance the wildcat has, out in the wild where they belong.’’
Watch the video on You Tube (link opens in new window)
News Story: Wildcat Haven
Photos: Adrian Bennett
Video: Kevin Bell / Wildcat Haven
For more information visit Wildcat Haven