Chester Zoo has released amazing video footage they captured of a rare Scottish Wildcat kitten, bred at the Zoo, emerging from its den for the first time since birth.
The endangered wildcat was born on May 13, and keepers do not yet know its sex.
The arrival of the kitten (the first to ever be born at the Cheshire, UK zoo) has given a big boost to a conservation programme, which is working to bring Britain’s rarest mammal back from the edge of extinction.
Experts believe there could now be fewer than 100 individuals left in the wild, making the Scottish Wildcat, or ‘Highland Tiger’ as it is affectionately known, one of the most endangered populations of cats in the world.
Wildcats once thrived in Britain but were almost hunted to extinction for their fur and to stop them preying on valuable game birds. They are now protected under UK law but remain under huge threat from crossbreeding with feral and domestic cats, habitat loss, and accidental persecution.
Scottish Wildcat mum, Einich:
A coordinated action plan to save the highly threatened animals, named Scottish Wildcat Action, has been devised to protect the species and involves over 20 conservation partners including Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Government, The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the Forestry Commission Scotland, as well as Chester Zoo’s Act for Wildlife conservation campaign. Conservation breeding in zoos, for their eventual release, has been identified as an important component in the long-term recovery plan for the animals.
Tim Rowlands, Chester Zoo’s Curator of Mammals, said, “The arrival of the new kitten is a major boost to the increasingly important captive population in Britain. It was born in May but has spent the first few months safely tucked up in its den with mum, Einich, and has only recently gained enough confidence to venture out and explore. It won’t be too long until this little kitten grows into a powerful predator.
“Conservation breeding in zoos is a key element in the wider plan to conserve the species in the UK and, drawing on the unique skills, knowledge and knowhow of the carnivore experts working here, we’re breeding Scottish Wildcats to increase the safety net population and hope to release their offspring into the highlands of Scotland in the future.
“In tandem with our breeding programme, we’re also supporting monitoring work in the Scottish highlands and have funded camera traps that are being used to identify areas where wildcat populations are thriving or suffering.
“This project is of national importance and shows what an important role zoos can play in helping to save local species. We’re very much part of efforts to maximise the chances of maintaining a wild population of the stunning Scottish Wildcat for the long term.”
Chester Zoo’s three Scottish Wildcats (two-year-old adult female Einich, three-year-old male Cromarty and the new kitten) are currently in a special behind-the-scenes breeding facility. They are not directly on show to the public but visitors to the zoo can see them via a live webcam.
Unique to Britain, and now only found in Scotland, the Scottish Wildcat is classified as an isolated population of the European Wildcat (felis silvestris silvestris). However, there is still some debate over whether it should be classed as a distinct sub-species known as: felis silvestris grampia.
The European Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) is a subspecies of the wildcat that inhabits European forests, as well as forested areas in Turkey and the Caucasus Mountains. It is absent in Scandinavia, and has been extirpated in England and Wales. Numbers in Scotland are critically low.
The European Wildcat is much bigger and stouter than the domestic cat, has longer fur and a shorter non-tapering bushy tail. It has striped fur and a dark dorsal band. Males average a weight of 5 kg (11 lb) up to 8 kg (18 lb), and females 3.5 kg (7.7 lb). Their weight fluctuates seasonally up to 2.5 kg (5.5 lb).
Scottish Wildcats are Britain’s most rare mammal and their only remaining wild feline species. Recent reports by the Scottish Wildcat Association estimate that less than 100 individuals, and possibly as few as 35, may remain in the wild. It means the Scottish Wildcat, or Highland tiger as it’s affectionately known, is one of the most endangered populations of cats in the world
A coordinated action plan to protect and conserve the species called Scottish Wildcat Action, involving over 20 partners including Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Government and the Forestry Commission Scotland, has identified conservation breeding as a key component in the programme. The conservation breeding programme is being managed by Douglas Richardson at RZSS, with the assistance of the Aspinall Foundation.
Chester Zoo was one of the first zoos to step up and offer its expert breeding skills and knowledge and an off-show breeding facility has been built at the zoo specially for Scottish wildcats, enabling the zoo to play a vital role in saving the species.
As well as its conservation breeding programme, Chester Zoo has partnered up with Scottish Wildcat Action and has supported their wildcat monitoring work in the highlands of Scotland by providing funding for camera traps. These camera traps are used to identify areas where wildcat populations are thriving or suffering
For more see: www.scottishwildcataction.org