Your Cat Good Causes is helping the mission to save wildcats in the UK


Editor's Picks
09 January 2023
Your Cat Good Causes has become the sole sponsor of Embo, one of the male Scottish wildcats currently in the successful Saving Wildcats European partnership project, headed by The Royal Zoological Society for Scotland (RZSS).

Image above: Your Cat Good Causes has become the sole sponsor of Embo.

Wildcats are clinging on by a claw and Scotland is their last refuge from extinction in Britain. Thankfully, over 30 zoos, wildlife parks, and private collections have come together as members of a breeding programme to help ensure their survival.

Your Cat Good Causes has become the sole sponsor of Embo, one of the male Scottish wildcats currently in the successful Saving Wildcats European partnership project, headed by The Royal Zoological Society for Scotland (RZSS).

The RZSS, the wildlife conservation charity and lead partner for the Saving Wildcats project, has been managing the UK captive population since 2015 to make sure those wildcats can support the restoration of the species in Britain. Saving Wildcats (#SWAforLife) is a European partnership project dedicated to Scottish wildcat conservation and recovery. Their main aim is to prevent the extinction of wildcats in Scotland by breeding and releasing them into the wild.

“Wildcats are on the brink of extinction in Britain following widespread population declines as a result of centuries of persecution and habitat loss. More recently, the dwindling wildcat population has become increasingly threatened by genetic extinction caused by extensive interbreeding (also known as hybridisation) with domestic cats,” David Barclay, Saving Wildcats Conservation Manager, explains.

“Sadly, Scotland’s wildcat population is now considered non-viable following an independent review by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Cat Specialist Group. This means that although there may be some wild living wildcats in Scotland, there are too few of them and hybridisation is too far advanced for them to form a self-sustaining population. Without urgent action, our wildcats will be lost forever.”

The IUCN report concluded wildcat releases, at suitably prepared sites, are now essential for the recovery of the species.

In a quiet location at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park in the Cairngorms National Park, the project’s conservation breeding for release centre brings together a skilled animal management team, a dedicated vet team and facility, species-specific breeding and pre-release enclosures, and a management approach to help develop the necessary life skills needed for life in the wild.

David continues: “Following on from the work of Scottish Wildcat Action, we have built Britain’s only large-scale conservation breeding centre for release centre for wildcats, where they will be bred and managed prior to their release into the Cairngorms National Park.

“Following a period of pre-release management in the large, natural enclosures, the project aims to release a minimum of 20 wildcats each year, starting in 2023, in an area within the Cairngorms National Park.

David explains: “We hope to carry out the first wildcat releases in 2023. This is dependent on a range of factors, including release site preparations, threat control measures, and pre-release training programmes. The plan is to release around 20 wildcats each year from the Saving Wildcats conservation breeding centre. We are also considering translocating wildcats from European populations to help boost the Scottish gene pool.”

All of the released wildcats will be fitted with GPS collars to ensure their movements, activity patterns, and behaviours can be monitored. The project area will also be systematically monitored using a network of camera traps.

Earlier this year, 22 wildcat kittens were born, exceeding the initial target for the year. “Our target for the first breeding season was 20 kittens, so to have welcomed 22 in just six litters is a huge success. This gives us a great base for the next phase of the project.”

David continues: “While human presence is kept to a minimum to give the wildcats the best possible chance of survival after release, our small team of expert keepers can monitor the kittens and their parents on remote cameras. It has been fantastic to watch them grow and develop over the summer. Once the kittens are fully independent and no longer reliant on their mums, they will move into special pre-release enclosures, which are designed to help prepare them for the many challenges of life in the wild.

“It is wonderful to have the support of Your Cat Good Causes in sponsoring Embo, one of the cats in the conservation breeding centre. He is a handsome boy, who has always been very vocal and likes to make his presence known! Embo was paired with Torr this year and together they welcomed two feisty kittens.

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“Like the rest of us, wildcats have their own personalities and interests. Droma’s the confident one. Cranachan loves a chat. Fruin’s curious, if not downright nosy. With your support, their kittens will have the best possible chance of survival in the wild. It costs £7.50 for a week’s food, £30 to vaccinate them against disease and £1,500 for a GPS tracking collar.

“Supporters like you have already made it possible to build a conservation centre at Highland Wildlife Park. With the support of a dedicated team of vets and keepers, the wildcats have large, natural enclosures in a quiet area away from any unnecessary disturbance. It’s the perfect setting for a breed-and-release programme that can bring wildcats back from the brink in Scotland,” David concludes.

If you would like to help save Scottish Wildcats from extinction, you can sponsor one of three wildcats currently in the programme. Sponsor Fruin, Droma, or Cranachan from just £5 a month — it makes a great gift. You’ll get a sponsorship pack all about your wildcat and regular updates, with a quarterly newsletter and access to an exclusive sponsors’ Facebook group with pictures, videos, and messages from their keepers.

David Barclay, Saving Wildcats conservation manager, explains why it’s vital to save Scottish Wildcats and how someone would recognise a wildcat:

Why is it important to save Scottish Wildcats from extinction?

“The wildcat is our last native cat. The species also has a long history in Scottish culture and mythology. It was revered by many Highland clans who used the wildcat in their clan crests. The wildcat is also one of Scotland’s most iconic species, embodying wild nature for the Scottish Highlands.

“As human activity is responsible for the wildcat’s decline, we have a responsibility to take action to protect our Highland tigers.”

What is a Scottish Wildcat and how would someone recognise one?

“The scientific name for both Scotland’s wildcats and the European wildcat is Felis silvestris silvestris, meaning they are the same sub-species. However, our wildcat population has been isolated for around 10,000 years, after Britain became an island. This means Scotland’s wildcats are a unique, highly threatened, sub-population of the European wildcat.

“The official method for identifying a wildcat, used by scientists, is known as pelage scoring. Seven features are scored out of three, which helps the identifier to tell the difference between a wildcat, a tabby domestic cat, and a hybrid of the two. The pelage scoring methodology was developed by Dr Andrew Kitchener after he analysed over 100 wildcat skins that are owned by National Museums Scotland. Pelage scoring is a useful tool for identifying cats in the field, or from photographs, particularly camera trap images.

“Pelage scoring is the precursor to genetic testing and a combination of both methods are used to determine if an individual is a wildcat, hybrid or feral cat.

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