Young wildcat kittens have been rescued and placed in a centre in the West Highlands in Scotland, with plans to return them to the wild.
According to Wildcat Haven, the conservation group who rescued the Scottish wildcats, there are only 35 pure Scottish wildcats remaining in the world.
While the conservation group often receive reports about wildcat sightings, these tend to be domestic cats and the sighting of orphaned wildcat kittens is extremely rare.
Wildcat Haven was granted permission by Scottish Natural Heritage to rescue the kittens under the condition that they were orphans. Just as fieldworkers were preparing to make a capture 24 hours later, they spotted the original eye witness carrying the two vulnerable kittens towards them inside his coat.
“It seemed likely they had been abandoned or orphaned and were in grave danger,” said Wildcat Haven’s chief scientific advisor, Dr Paul O’Donoghue, after the kittens were found close to a road.
Remote cameras and bait were set up by the group to confirm the kittens were abandoned.
The kittens underwent health checks and were successfully moved to a specially designed wildcat rescue facility in the West Highlands, set up by Highland Titles. Once the kittens are old enough they will be released at the first opportunity, said the charity.
However, Scottish Wildcat Action Priority Areas Manager, Dr Roo Campbell, responded to Scottish Wildcat Haven’s findings, saying:
“It is virtually impossible to tell whether kittens are tabby domestic cats or wildcat kitten at a young age. We wouldn’t recommend making an assessment until around six months of age. That these kittens were gathered up by hand indicates they were extremely young, probably under eight weeks old. A nursing mother wildcat will temporarily leave the kittens to go hunting and could be scared off by lots of human activity around the kittens, so we must hope that every care was taken to ensure these were truly abandoned.
“Secondly, when working with wild individuals held in captivity, we have the luxury of using the combined pelage (coat markings) and genetic scoring to assess whether an individual is a wildcat. In this case, we would recommend that both tests are done before any statement is made on whether these are wildcat kittens. Unfortunately, such is the poor status of the Scottish wildcat population, these kittens are more likely to be feral-hybrid cats than of wildcats.”
Experts state that those lucky enough to discover Scottish wildcat kittens should not assume they have been abandoned. Their mother may have just left them to go hunting. Report any sightings to email@example.com