Two litters of rare Scottish Wildcats born at Highland Wildlife Park could play a huge role in the conservation of this species, which is considered by some to be Europe’s rarest mammal.
The kittens’ birth is part of a conservation program and could result in the species’ eventual reintroduction to some protected areas of Scotland.
Photo Credits: RZSS/Alex Riddell (1, 2, 4), RZSS/Jan Morse (3)
For several months, the kittens have been tucked safely in their dens with their mothers, but they have begun venturing outdoors recently. The playfulness that zoo guests observe between the mothers and their babies is actually an important part of developing the kittens’ survival skills.
Also known as the Highland Tiger, this rare native species is facing the threat of extinction due to hybridization with domestic and feral Cats, habitat loss, and accidental persecution. The species is Critically Endangered in Scotland and is the only wild Cat native to Scotland.
The zoo is partnering with other Scottish conservation organizations to develop an action plan for preserving the species. The captive breeding program managed by the zoo provides an increasingly important safety net as the wild population of this Wildcat continues to decline.
Although some similarities with Domestic Cats exist, the two species are not to be confused. The Scottish Wildcat is an isolated sub-population of the European Wildcat, which is found in continental Europe. Wildcats prefer to live alone but will come together for breeding, normally giving birth to two or three kittens, which the mother will protect fiercely.
With their big, bushy, black-ringed tail and tenacious behavior, Scottish Wildcats play a large role in Scottish lore, and were often used in clan crests.