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Aigas Scottish Wildcat Programme

Protecting the future of the Scottish Wildcat – the UK’s only native feline and most endangered mammal.

Since 2011, Aigas Field Centre has been contributing to an important national programme to bring back the Scottish wildcat from the edge of extinction. We are working in partnership with Scottish Wildcat Action, which includes efforts to protect what’s left in the wild and a conservation breeding programme led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).

Together with zoos, wildlife parks and other private collections around the country, the wildcats at Aigas are part of an important safety net for the species. One day we hope to release wildcats back into the wild to help this highly endangered animal have a better chance of survival.

 

Wildcat Ecology

The Scottish Wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia) is recognised aScottish Wildcat - note the banded tails a sub-species distinct from European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) and is larger than it's continental cousins. It has the appearance of a large and muscular tabby cat with a broad, flat head and a distinct fur pattern, including the distinctive darks rings around the thick, blunt tail. However, any comparison with the domestic cat ends there. Wildcats are famously untameable, spitting and hissing ferociously if cornered and highly elusive in the wild making them tremendously hard to see.

Nevertheless, wildcats and domestic cats can hybridise and some fear that this is now the greatest threat to the gene pool of the Scottish wildcat. Other experts are less concerned, believing that natural selection will weed out the hybrids over time, as they are less adapted to survive the challenging conditions of the Highland wilderness.

Wildcat - Threatened in the WildIn the wild, wildcats are solitary and occupy large ranges, which rarely overlap except for when the female is in oestrus, which she will advertise through her scent marking and a blood curdling wailing (no doubt the source of much Highland mythology!) Wildcats mark and defend their territories by scent marking with faeces, urine and with scent glands in their heads and feet. One way in which they will broadcast their presence is by urinating in streams. Unfortunately this instinctive behaviour also takes place in captivity and their water bowls need to be cleaned out regularly!

Wildcats are highly adapted predators, with retractable claws, muscular build and senses of vision, smell and hearing far in advance of our own. They are almost purely carnivorous and consume almost every part of their prey, which consists mostly of rabbits, voles and other rodents and some ground nesting birds. They will also occasionally eat long blades of grass, which is thought to help them dislodge intestinal worms and may also provide some supplementary vitamins.

 

Why We're Involved

Our wildcats in their pen.What is clear is that wildcats need our help. They were once found right across mainland Britain but a combination of persecution and habitat loss has driven them to the uttermost extremes of the mainland and they are now under threat. Although now fully protected by the law, they still suffer through road kill and illegal trapping and poisoning and while numbers are almost impossible to assess accurately, it's thought that well under a thousand Scottish wildcats exist today.

There are a number of organisations and individuals breeding wildcats in Scotland and our pair came from a captive breeding programme. Wildcats mate in the middle of winter and after a gestation period of approx 55 days, they give birth to a litter of typically 3-4 kittens. They are weaned after a few weeks, independent after about six months and sexually mature at a year. It is our hope that our pair will produce young that we can release into the wild.

 

So why are they in decline?

1. Hybridisation

The main threat to the Scottish Wildcat is hybridisation, or interbreeding, with domestic cats. Their offspring are fertile and are a mixture both in their appearance and genetics. This means that, eventually, the Scottish Wildcat will be wiped out as a distinct species because of genetic dilution. It is not known how many pure Wildcats are left in the wild, and to date none 100% pure have been found.

2. Disease

Disease can be transmitted from domestic cats to Scottish wildcats. This is a particular problem where there are a lot of feral cats (domestic cats that are living in the wild). Feral cats are often in poor condition and riddled with disease and parasites. This reduces the survival rate of the few remaining wildcats out there.

3. Persecution

Wildcats were historically persecuted by gamekeepers for a number of centuries, and in more recent times, mistaken for feral cats, which pose a threat to the rearing of game birds. Now, they are encouraged to trap any cats found so that they can be genetically tested.

The captive population of Scottish Wildcats is vital to their survival and it is of the utmost importance that we, along with a number of other breeding programmes, work together to improve the genetic purity, increase the captive population and build a pool of wildcats that will be released into the wild once the threats to their survival have been reduced.

Aigas Wildcat Adoption SchemeOur Adoption Scheme

Now, you are able to adopt one of our Wildcats; contributing towards food, enclosure building and maintenance, animal husbandry costs and veterinary fees. Your donation will go to the Aigas Trust, who funds our project.

We are aiming to raise £150,000 by 2021, with the aim of increasing the number of our breeding pairs of wildcats from one to three, so we urgently need your help.

Adoption Options

  • £25 - Receive an adoption pack including a personalised thank you letter, information about the project and wildcat postcards
  • £50 - Receive an adoption pack and a signed copy of one of John Lister-Kaye’s books of your choice
  • £150 - Receive an adoption pack, a wildcat mug, designed by resident artist Becky Lister-Kaye, and a signed copy of one of John Lister-Kaye’s books of your choice
  • £250 - Receive an adoption pack and a signed A4 Laurie Campbell print of a Scottish Wildcat. There are 5 to choose from. All adoption packs will come with a biannual newsletter, sent in July and January. 

‚ÄčFor more information or to make a donation please contact us via the contact page.

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Aigas Field Centre, Beauly, Inverness-Shire, Scotland IV4 7AD

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