Deep in the East Highlands, in Aberdeenshire, an isolated population of Scottish wildcats have been discovered, and Wildcat Haven, a conservation project for the rare creatures, have revealed what is thought to be exclusive video evidence that that the species is ‘pure breed’.
Many experts claimed the pure breed to be extinct in the East Highlands, due to their cross-mating with domestic cats (called hybridisation). Projects run by Scottish Natural Heritage have been unsuccessful in finding a cat with no signs of hybridisation. However, Wildcat Haven has never given up the search for them.
After receiving eyewitness sightings from Aberdeenshire, Wildcat Haven began a targeted survey which quickly confirmed that there was a small population of very high purity wildcats. The cat caught in the aforementioned video footage has now scored full marks on the 21-point wildcat purity scale – the first living wildcat to do so.
Dr Paul O’Donoghue, Chief Scientific Advisor for Wildcat Haven, said: “It feels a bit like looking at a unicorn, 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.
He continues, “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.”
However, a spokesman for Scottish Wildcat Action said: “The press release from Wildcat Haven is misleading. Scottish Wildcat Action has already been working with the local community in its Strathbogie ‘Priority Area’ for over two years. Therefore this latest claim is certainly not news to Scottish Wildcat Action.”
He added: “The wildcat shown in this “new,” video is extremely similar to one we have already identified. And in addition our partners from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit detected wildcats back in 2011.”
Wildcat Haven is currently creating a monitoring and domestic cat neutering programme in Aberdeenshire to protect the small population of wildcats. Kevin Bell, the project manager of the search and programme, says: “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.’’
Main image: Scottish wildcat/credit: Adrian Bennett