Scottish wildcats have been making the news on the BBC over the past week with an announcement of a grant of almost £1million pounds to Wildcat Action, a collaborative project involving more than 30 organisations. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) are taking the lead and recently issued a news release giving further details of the project. Jenny Bryce from SNH gave an interesting summary of the project this morning on Farming Today (Podcast available until 12-Jan-2015) highlighting the dramatic decline in population numbers over the past 200 years due to persecution and hybridisation with feral and domestic cats. She was non-committal on the numbers of wildcats remaining, maybe in the 100s or even just 10s. Nobody really knows.
Given the recent news, it seemed an opportune moment for us to take a look at some of our old camera trap footage of cats in Lochaber.
Our first encounter with a wildcat or hybrid dates from June 2011. Quite a large cat with a good ventral stripe and confident manner. Unfortunately, a one off video capture...
Hybridisation with domestic and feral cats is a relatively recent issue as domestic cats were not believed to have been common in the Highlands until recent times. With the decrease in the numbers of true wildcats, this continued hybridisation poses a serious threat to the long term survival of the wildcat. Wildcats can be differentiated from domestic tabby cats and hybrids using a scoring system based on body shape and coat characteristics. Our second video capture shows an interaction between two cats. A hybrid and a feral cat? Two feral cats? A wildcat and a feral cat? A wildcat and a hybrid?
The 'black cat' in the second video was subsequently captured and neutered and is no longer a threat to the wildcat gene pool. Given the interaction, she's quite possibly a hybrid herself and maybe even related to the striped cat. Jenny touched on the contentious issue of control of feral cats on Farming Today this morning, and we're glad we're not the ones making the judgement calls as identifying a wildcat can be problematic.
Our most recent sighting was just a bushy clubbed tail disappearing into rough grassland in July 2014. Maybe it was the cat above (from April 2014) or one of a true wildcat.
There are lots of issues affecting the short and long term survival of The Scottish wildcat and we wish the Wildcat Action Project all best wishes in securing the future of this iconic Scottish mammal. Long may it remain being Wild About Lochaber.