S C O T T I S H W I L D C A T
Lots happening lately, and tricky to keep up with. At the end of 2014 SNH announced that 6 months of research across six areas of the Highlands revealed no wildcats, leading to them naming those six areas priorities for wildcat conservation. Much of this research was based on a genetics test from RZSS. RZSS have been criticised for knowingly breeding and marketing hybridised wildcats as the real thing only to neuter them a short while later, and defended their actions based on the same genetics test.
A scientist came forward from the SNH Action Plan stating; “How can they designate an area for wildcat preservation that doesn’t actually have traces of any wildcats? How can they claim it is a national survey when vast tracts of the western Highlands were not included? SNH are hiding behind genetics tests which I believe not to be valid as they are based on a small population of European wildcats in Switzerland and none are from pure Scottish wildcats. They have knowingly been breeding a lot of hybrids and then neutering them.”
Moving into 2015 the independent Wildcat Haven effort announced further successes expanding their feral cat free zone with more neutering of feral and pet cats, stating that their own genetics test was close to complete after five years of field verification using only Scottish wildcat DNA
Further controversy appeared around the SNH/RZSS action plan as they attempted a rebrand (“Scottish Wildcat Action”) and shuffled around the public facing officers. Welfare group CAPS received a leaked set of minutes from an action plan meeting outlining plans to build a new captive breeding population by drawing animals from the wild, potentially extincting the wildcat in the wild in the process. Endorsing the Haven action plan as the way forward CAPS, Haven and an independent expert spoke out strongly against the SNH plans, particularly as SNH had already announced a priority action zone within the Haven working area; potentially removing pure wildcats from the one safe place they have in the wild.
‘UK zoos in controversy as plot to cage endangered Scottish wildcats is exposed’
Full content of the CAPS press release.
‘Scottish wildcat captive breeding plan defended’
Reporting on the CAPS information leak and SNH plans to take wild living wildcats into captivity at RZSS’ Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park.
‘Neutering clinics for pets to aid Scottish wildcats’
More on the pet cat neutering clinics in Wildcat Haven.
19/02/2015 Lochaber News
‘Clinics to offer free neutering to save Scottish wildcats’
Haven reaches even further across the Lochaber region announcing free pet cat neutering clinics in Moidart.
‘Scottish wildcat safe haven expanding into Morvern’
Coverage of Wildcat Haven plans to double the size of the Haven to over 500 square miles with their successful feral cat neutering programs.
‘Scottish wildcat sanctuary to double in size’
More on Wildcat Haven expansion.
05/02/2015 Lochaber News
‘Lochaber haven for rare Scottish wildcat to double in size’
A more detailed and local piece of coverage on the Haven expansion plans, which are gaining incredible local community support
‘Wildcat conservation project given almost £1m’
SNH announce that the Lottery has awarded their wildcat action plan with almost £1m, unfortunately, Lottery money can only be used to directly benefit the general public and as such none of this money can be used for things like scientific research or neutering feral cats, what it can be used for is PR; and with SNH moving towards defining wildcats by an extremely relaxed pelage criteria this means marketing a redefined wildcat to the people of Scotland, whitewashing the imminent extinction of the genetically pure form.
‘Why the Scottish wildcat is threatened by its saviour’
Strong piece from the Guardian raising issue with SNH’s continued approach to wildcat conservation following a run of conflicting stories on what’s going on at present. An interesting quote in here includes internal criticism of the RZSS genetics test that was recently used to legitimise captive breeding efforts, so does the test work or not?
‘Experts fear Scottish wildcat may be extinct’
Interesting reading between the lines by the Scotsman, following an SNH press release naming six areas as priority wildcat conservation areas having carried out genetics research showing that no wildcats existed there, some fine logic there.
‘Rare zoo wildcats not quite as rare as visitors may think’
Leaks reveal that most of the wildcats bred and marketed at RZSS’ Highland Wildlife Park have since been neutered as hybrids draws concern from conservationists and welfare groups, RZSS legitimise their work with talk of a genetics test, which is commented on in the 23/11 Guardian piece by a scientist working alongside RZSS; “SNH are hiding behind genetics tests which I believe not to be valid as they are based on a small population of European wildcats in Switzerland and none are from pure Scottish wildcats.”
Found here. . . . . .
Compared to other members of the Felinae, the wildcat is a small species, but is nonetheless larger than the housecat. The wildcat is similar in appearance to a stripedtabby cat, but has relatively longer legs, a more robust build, and a greater cranialvolume. The tail is long, and usually slightly exceeds one-half of the animal’s body length. Its skull is more spherical in shape than that of the jungle and leopard cat. The ears are moderate in length, and broad at the base. The eyes are large, with vertical pupils, and yellowish-green irises. Its dentition is relatively smaller and weaker than the jungle cat’s. The species size varies according toBergmann’s rule, with the largest specimens occurring in cool, northern areas of Europe (such as Scotland and Scandinavia) and of Middle Asia (such as Mongolia, Manchuriaand Siberia).
Males measure 43 to 91 cm (17 to 36 in) in body length, 23 to 40 cm (9.1 to 15.7 in) in tail length, and normally weigh 5 to 8 kg (11 to 18 lb). Females are slightly smaller, measuring 40 to 77 cm (16 to 30 in) in body length and 18 to 35 cm (7.1 to 13.8 in) in tail length, and weighing 3 to 5 kg (6.6 to 11.0 lb). Both sexes possess pre-anal glands, which consist of moderately sizedsweat and sebaceous glands around the anal opening. Large-sized sebaceous and scent glands extend along the full length of the tail on the dorsal side. Male wildcats have pre-anal pockets located on the tail, which are activated upon reaching sexual maturity. These pockets play a significant role in reproduction and territorial marking. The species has two thoracic and two abdominalteats. The wildcat has good night vision, having 20 to 100% higher retinal ganglion celldensities[vague] than the housecat. It may[vague]have colour vision as the densities of its cone receptors are more than 100% higher than in the housecat. Its sense of smell is acute, and it can detect meat at up to 200 metres. The wildcat’s whiskers are white; they can reach 5 to 8 cm in length on the lips, and number 7 to 16 on each side. The eyelashes range from 5 to 6 cm in length, and can number 6 to 8 per side. Whiskers are also present on the inner surface of the wrist,[dubious ] and can measure 3 to 4 cm.
Wildcats are breeding themselves towards oblivion by diluting their ancient bloodline through mating with both feral and pet cats.
As few as 35 true wildcats still roam the last tracts of true Scottish wilderness where they are rightfully hailed as the Tigers or the Highlands.
This is a critical time for the wildcat but also an exciting one as the Haven project is really building momentum
Dr. Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific advisor
Powerful and cunning predators, wildcats may superficially resemble a domestic tabby but they are longer, heavier and have finely tuned hunting instincts that can dispatch a rabbit or hare in an instant.
Tom wildcats, however, have one weakness: they cannot resist the opportunity to breed with a feral or farm cat and this is reducing the wild gene pool.
To help keep the remaining wild felines pure, a unique conservation project is being launched between Humane Society International/UK and vets at the Wildcat Haven project.
Wildcats are diluting their gene pool by mating with feral cats
The idea is to use the Trap-Vaccinate-Neuter-Release programme that that global animal welfare charity has pioneered in Bhutan and the Philippines to manage feral dog populations.
In Scotland, the partnership will mean that Wildcat Haven can expand its successful work in the Ardnamurchan peninsula to the surrounding area of Morvern, creating a 500 square mile sanctuary across prime wildcat territory.
Wildcats are legally protected but remain one of the country’s most endangered creatures. They were heavily persecuted by gamekeepers in Victorian Times, with large numbers killed because of their taste for poultry and grouse.
Wildcats are legally protected but remain one of the country’s most endangered species
Dr. Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific advisor for the Wildcat Haven project, said: “Wildcat Haven has always been about striving for exceptional animal welfare standards and delivering compassionate conservation that keeps wildcats where they belong, in the wild.
“This is a critical time for the wildcat but also an exciting one as the Haven project is really building momentum. Not only is the haven area expanding year on year, but by launching a new crowd funding approach to buying nature reserves for wildcats, we are now offering an opportunity for everyone to get involved and play their part in saving one of the rarest animals on the planet. Time is tight, but we can still save this animal.”
Wildcat Haven has identified six areas in the Scottish Highlands, where the wildcat has the best chance of survival. Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/UK, added: “This is compassionate conservation in action to save Britain’s only surviving native feline from the brink of extinction, while not harming any domestic or feral cats in the process.
Scottish wildcats share a likeness with domestic tabbies but are physiologically different
“Our TVNR projects are more usually rolled out in places like Bhutan and the Philippines, so it’s exciting to see it in action to help our own British wildlife. “By neutering domestic and feral cats this programme will humanely eliminate the interbreeding problem while creating a secure area where Scottish wildcats are given the best possible chance of survival within their own natural habitat.
Wildcat fact file:
• A male wildcat can measure up top 36 inches from nose to tail tip and weigh 18lb.
• Scottish wildcats may resemble domestic tabbies but they are physiologically different with contrasting skull shapes, dentition, gut length and tail shape.
• The fur around a wildcat’s mouth is light brown, not white as in many tabbies, and the tail is thick and banded black and brown with a blunt black tip. The black dorsal stripe ends at the base of the spine.
• Scottish wildcats have been isolated for so long from their European counterparts that may be a distinct sub species.
An international animal welfare group has praised a project to save the Scottish wildcat that has been running in the Highlands since 2008.
Humane Society International has praised Wildcat Haven for its innovative use of “trap-neuterreturn”
(TNR) controls of feral cats to help conserve wildcats, whose population is estimated to be as low as 35 in Scotland.
The main threat to them is hybridisation – cross-mating – with feral domestic cats. This has left them up to 70 times scarcer than the giant panda.
Wildcat Haven has has neutered feral cat populations across almost 500 square miles of wildcat habitat.
Claire Bass of Humane Society International UK said: “It’s extremely encouraging to see that the Ardnamurchan and
Morvern communities have been so engaged and supportive.
“The outcomes benefit companion animals and feral cat populations, and give the best chance of survival to this iconic endangered species.”
Wildcat Haven’s chief scientific adviser Dr Paul O’Donoghue, added: “This is a critical time for the wildcat but also an exciting one as the
Haven project is really building momentum. Not only is the haven area expanding year on year, but by launching a new crowd funding approach to buying nature reserves for wildcats, we are now offering an opportunity for everyone to get involved.”
FINDING THE purrfect match for Scottish wildcats is all in a day’s work for David Barclay.
The 34-year-old conservation expert is the new keeper of the European studbook for the endangered species dubbed the Highland Tiger.
He keeps a record of the family tree, birth date and purity of all captive felines.
As cat conservation project officer for Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), he finds them a suitable date, avoiding inbreeding, in a bid to repopulate the Highlands.
With fewer than 250 cats in the wild, the 100 in zoos and private collections are vital to ensure the survival of Britain’s last large wild predator.
The records recently moved to Aviemore from England. David, part of the Scottish Wildcat Action Group, said: “We’re making the last great attempt to save the Scottish wildcat.
“It is a cultural emblem of wild nature in Scotland.
David Barclay – Royal Zoological Society of Scotland conservation officer
“The studbook is a database of every living wildcat that has been part of that captive population. We can trace those animals back to the time they were brought in from the wild, so we know exactly where they came from, which tells us what animals are related to others.
“It also lets us form new breeding pairs with the view to reducing or eliminating inbreeding and increasing the gene pool.
“I work with geneticists at the Wildgenes lab, at Edinburgh Zoo , who are analysing samples to find out if animals are pure wildcats or crossbred with domestic cats.
“This gives us the best chance of finding suitable wildcats for the foundation of a viable captive population which can be used for releases into the wild.”
A £2million action plan, backed by Scottish National Heritage, the RZSS and 20 other
organisations, will create six wildcat safe havens.
David added: “Two-hundred years ago, there were wildcats from the north of
Scotland deep into England.
“With habitat change, persecution, and breeding with domestic and feral cats – one of the key threats for wildcats – they have been pushed north.”
Wildcats bred for release will be kept in enclosures behind closed doors, with limited keeper contact, before being freed.
Council urged to back project to preserve wildcatsCouncil signs up to protect Scottish wildcats in AberdeenshireAberdeenshire Council backs project to save Scottish wildcatWildcat kittens take centre stage at Highland Wildlife ParkScottish wildcat project praised by Humane Society International
Part of the action plan being delivered by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) through the Scottish Wildcat Action Project includes a conservation breeding programme.
But Wildcat Haven has warned this would take the animals away from their natural environments in the great outdoors – and ultimately contribute to their end.
The group is currently working to establish an area of land in Ardnamurchan, a 50-square-mile peninsula in Lochaber, for the animals to prosper in their natural habitat.
Director of Wildcat Haven, Emily O’Donoghue, said breeding and reintroduction projects in other parts of Europe had a “terrible success rate”.
She warned that backing the plan could “contribute to the extinction of wildcats”.
“The action plan focuses on removing some of the last pure wildcats from the wild and placing them in captivity,” she said.
“Wildcat Haven is completely opposed to this and instead we are working hard to conserve the wildcats where they belong which is in the wild.
“Wildcat Haven has been contacted by a number of Aberdeenshire residents requesting that we help to stop their wildcats being taken into captivity.”
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) – which is leading Scottish Wildcat Action’s breeding programme – said it would be working both in the wild and in the Highland Wildlife Park on the scheme.
Dave Barclay, a cat conservation officer for the RZSS, said: “What makes Scottish Wildcat Action unique is that it is working both in the field and on a complementary conservation breeding for release programme, based at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park.
“The situation facing the Scottish wildcat is so severe that we believe that both approaches are essential to secure the species’ future.
“Examples of conservation breeding and release can be seen across the globe with many species only existing in the wild because of this approach.
“RZSS staff will be working closely with land managers and communities across Scotland to find a small but suitable number of wildcats that will act as the foundation for a robust and viable captive population, suitable for future release.
“These animals will be housed in large-scale, natural enclosures at the Park (and in various partner locations) away from public view, and the cats’ natural, wild behaviours will be encouraged to both increase the chances of breeding success and prepare cats for future release.”
Chairwoman of Scottish Wildcat Action, Eileen Stuart, said she welcomed the council’s backing for their project
these the final few days of the Scottish wildcat, currently numbering perhaps as few as 35 scattered beasts? That is the fear of some supporters of Scotland’s most vivid species, and it is leading to an almighty row over a creature that has graced the Highlands for around 10,000 years. The argument relates to a deceptively simple question: when is a wildcat not a wildcat?
The wildcat’s imminent extinction may have been camouflaged from our consciousness by the existence of a counterfeit cat – a feline facsimile that looks like a wildcat but whose genealogy is far from pure. Staring implacably from the midst of rock and heather it will do for the postcards and tea-towels. And if it looks like a wildcat, then why should the rest of us worry about its lineage?
Last week the Scottish government and its leading environmental agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, in response to insistent calls for action to be taken to protect this endangered species, announced a £2m, six-year strategic plan to reverse the decline in numbers by reducing cross-breeding with domestic and feral cats and curbing exposure to feline diseases.
No stone, it seems, will be left unturned in seeking to preserve this beastie and all the usual key words were present and correct: “targeted”, “outcomes” and “viable”. “A conservation breeding programme will be set up to reinforce wild populations in the future,” SNH insisted, “and scientists will also carry out further research to improve understanding of wildcat ecology and genetics.” But it’s the presence also of phrases such as “distinct groups” and “relaxed definitions” that fuel the suspicion that saving the pure, un-hybridised Scottish wildcat may not be on the government agenda.
The government masterplan is as fake as the DNA of the hybrids masquerading as pure-bloods, said Steve Piper, founder of the Scottish Wildcat Association and the country’s foremost authority on the preservation of the species.
In short, anything that looks roughly two-thirds wildcat will be classified as a wildcat, so in the time it takes to say “re-contextualised” the population has ballooned from 35 individuals to thousands; quite a few pet cat owners worldwide will be waking up tomorrow morning to find they have a government-approved Scottish wildcat purring at the end of the bed.
According to Piper, the government and Scottish Natural Heritage studiously avoided almost all mention of the pure wildcat. So is the government and its main species conservation body signalling, by stealth, the extinction of the unalloyed, pure Scottish wildcat?
“I don’t think that’s overstating it,” said Piper. “They are certainly looking in all the wrong places. If it diverted just a few hundred thousand of its £2m or so to efforts currently being made in the Ardnamurchan peninsula, where the Scottish Wildcat Association has been working to breed the last cats in isolation, the final few dozen might yet have a future. It seems, though, that they are simply not prepared to take the risk of spending that money without the guarantee of success.”
In effect, the government stands accused of lowering the bar so that it can include an ornamental wildcat which will remain capable of bewitching the tourists.
The uncertain fate of an emblematic creature is in stark contrast to the upturn in fortunes of some of Europe’s other famous animals. Important research conducted by a conservation group that includes the Zoological Society of London points to startling increases in numbers of species such as bears, wolves, lynx, eagles and vultures. Targeted protection against hunting and poaching, along with rural depopulation, have been critical in this process.
Scottish Natural Heritage is unflinching in the face of the criticism. A spokesman said simply: “Steve Piper’s opinion is not one that we share. And we’ve no idea where he gets his figures from.”
This ought to matter a great deal to Scotland and its sense of itself. While the Highlands sustains several famous animals, almost all of them can also be found in other countries. The Scottish wildcat is unique to Scotland. It cannot stand to be around humans or their habitats, and thrives on its own, hunting rabbits, birds and rodents. The hybridised wildcat, though, will exhibit few such solitary tendencies.
As the last few Scottish wildcats run free and un-intruded upon in one of the world’s wildest neighbourhoods, a few hundred miles away two of another threatened species, the giant panda, are reduced to a grotesque circus act eating bamboo and playing hide and seek with a million rubbernecks.
The Edinburgh Zoological Society committed £8m of public money (it’s a charity) to hire a Chinese circus act. The same amount of money might give a unique Scottish species a sporting chance of survival. But if it is to disappear, better that it does so running free in a bleak wilderness and not before a wretched human audience in a glass menagerie.
Found here. …….
The wild ancestor of the domestic cat, the wildcat (Felis silvestris) bears a striking resemblance to its tame relatives. In fact, domesticated cats have undergone few changes since their ancestral split from the wildcat, causing problems in distinguishing this species and its many different subspecies. The wildcat is hugely variable in appearance across its large range and, consequently, it has been the subject of much taxonomic debate (6). However, there is currently thought to be at least five different subspecies: the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris),
the African wildcat (F. s. lybica), the Southern African wildcat (F. s. cafra), the Asian wildcat (F. s. ornata), and the Chinese alpine steppe cat (F. s. biete) (1)(7). The domestic cat is sometimes considered an additional subspecies with the name Felis silvestris catus(7)(8).
Displaying the appearance of an oversized, muscular tabby, the European wildcat has a long, thick coat, broad head, and comparatively flat face. It is rather compact, with short legs, wide set ears and a tail that usually exceeds just half of its head and body length. The attractive coat has well-defined dark stripes on the head, neck, limbs and along the back, while the thick, blunt-ended tail is marked with dark rings and a black tip (8)(9). The Scottish wildcat, occasionally referred to as Felis silvestris grampia, is the largest and heaviest built of all the wildcat populations (10)(11).
(Felis silvestris grampia)
By Allan Paul, June 2004
The European wildcat is thought to be descended from Felis silvestris lunensis, or Martelli’s wildcat, which was present in Europe in the early Pleistocene period, around 2 million years ago. The few remains of lunensis show the species to be roughly the same size as a modern wildcat.
As the ice sheet retreated north after the last ice age, many species, including the European wildcat, crossed the land bridge to Britain, and were cut off around 9500 years ago as sea levels rose due to the ice sheet melting. Wildcat remains in Britain have been dated to 8000 years old.
The original hunter-gathering people of Scotland, described later by the Romans as Picti, or Picts, had some tribes which worshipped the wildcat for its ferocity. One of these tribes was the Catti, or ‘Cat clan’ inhabiting the northwest of Scotland, in Sutherland and Caithness, which means ‘headland of the cats’ in old Scots.
Persecution and habitat loss since the Iron Age has gradually taken its toll on the wildcat, slowly retreating north through mainland Britain, so that by the late 1800’s it was only found in Scotland.
The advent of Sporting Estates saw wildcats being ruthlessly exterminated as vermin, as the species sometimes preyed on game-birds such as grouse, literally eating into the estates potential profit.
The Victorian’s lust for spectacular museum specimens also took a toll – gamekeepers were paid a bounty to kill the biggest and fiercest-looking wildcats, which precipitated a loss of the ‘large’ gene in subsequent generations. A parallel can be found in African elephants, where the ‘tuskers’ of old, sometimes produced tusks weighing 200 pounds, but were prized (and killed) by big-game hunters, reducing the giant’s genetic input to the wild population. Today a tusk weighing 100 pounds is rare.
By 1914 the species was almost extinct, save for small, isolated populations, mainly in northwest Scotland, but then was saved by a last-minute reprieve – over 20,000 gamekeepers were called up to fight in the Great War. Around 5000 found re-employment as gamekeepers after the war, similar to modern numbers.
Since then wildcats seem to have made a steady recovery, albeit within a limited gene-pool, but the increase in numbers may be due to hybridisation.