The Wildcat of Britain – Our Domestic Wildlife Still in Peril

wildcat2I first wrote about this endangered animal on 18th August 2013. Sadly there is no good news.

This is one of the last truly native wild predators in Britain. They once were spread across the whole island but are now limited to four areas in Scotland. Estimates of how many Wildcats are in Scotland range from an optimistic 100 to a low of around 35.

Even at the upper estimate that makes them more endangered than Siberian Tigers and the Northern Bald Ibis I wrote about yesterday.

So what are the threats?

The Wildcat evolved in Britain in isolation from the mainland of Europe. They thrived in the dense woodlands that covered most of Britain. That environment is mostly gone. However they do well on high heathland, moorland and wetlands. So while teritory loss is a factor there is plenty of space for them still.

The biggest current threat is the Domestic Cat. Feral cats outnumber Wildcats, these are not a related species – domestic cats are descended from African breeds. The two species can crossbreed and the hybrids are often fertile themselves. Feral cats outnumber Wildcats 1000:1 so hybridisation is a very real threat.

Domestic cats also carry diseases that can be spread to the Wildcat population, including FIV, also referred to as Feline HIV. This is commonly spread when male cats fight. There is also the more common cat flu and feline leukaemia virus. Owners of Domestic Cats are encouraged to have their pets neutered and inoculated.

There are many conservation projects such as Wildcat Haven and a captive breeding program. Of course not all the projects agree fully with each other. What they are most likely to agree on is the capturing and neutering of Feral cats and Hybrids.

These wild predators of Britain are increasingly on the brink of extinction in the wild.

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