Scottish Wildcat – our domestic wildlife in peril

I’ve previously written articles about Polar Bears and Siberian Tigers based on TV programs from BBC as well as in the news regarding Siberian Tigers born in the UK and the views of Zoo Owner Damian Aspinall.

Today I am looking at the risk, the very real risk, that the last large truly domestic mammal predators are facing. The Scottish Wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia)

Scottish Wildcats are a subspecies of the European Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) and are a separate species to domestic cats. The Wildcat colonised the British Isles after the last Ice Age, over 9000 years ago. Domestic cats were introduced to Britain from an African species (Felis sylvestris lybica), most likely beginning with the Roman invasion.

The habitat of the Wildcat has reduced but there is still plenty of space for the cat to thrive. One of the biggest threats is hybridisation. Indeed while there are possibly something approaching 400 Wildcats estimated to be in the wild due to hybridisation the estimate is that there are fewer than 50 pure Wildcats in the wild in Scotland.

So Wildcats are at more risk than Siberian Tigers.

Wildcats are bred successfully in captivity and the best hope for the Wildcat in the wild would be to release breeding stock to boost the numbers. Thankfully there are many places in the UK that breed Wildcats. There is also a lot of land suitable for release. The trick of course is to link up the territory where pure bred Wildcats can still be found with land where cats can be re-introduced. Capturing and neutering feral cats must probably be required.

Of course we now refer to this creature as the Scottish Wildcat but it used to thrive throughout Britain. Whether future releases might include other parts of Britain who can say. But at least within the next few years I’d hope we would see releases of Wildcats in Scotland to keep our wild mammals out of extinction

Below you can see the difference in the markings of the Wildcat (left) and a Tabby Domestic Cat.

  1. Wildcat markingsDorsal stripe on lower back always stops at the root of the tail.
  2. Tip of tail blunt and black
  3. Distinct aligned tail bands.
  4. Unbroken flank stripes.
  5. No spots on rump; stripes may be broken, but distinct
  6. Four nape stripes broad, wavy and unfused.
  7. Two shoulder stripes.

There is a great video on BBC website explaining how to identify a Wildcat from this information.

The Wildcat is protected by British law and is listed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 so it cannot be hunted or taken from the wild. Accidental killing of a Wildcat should be reported.

You can find out more:

BBC Wildlife
Scottish Wildcat Association
AIGAS

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