A rare Scottish Wildcat has been born at Chester Zoo. The female kitten is part of a breeding programme that is striving to save Britain’s rarest mammal from extinction.
As few as 100 Wildcats – also known as the ‘Highland tiger’ – are estimated to remain in the UK.
The animals once thrived in Britain but were hunted to the brink of extinction for their fur and to stop them from preying on game birds. As the only remaining wild feline species, Scottish Wildcats are now protected under UK law but are still under huge threat from habitat loss, crossbreeding with domestic cats, and disease.
Chester Zoo is one of a number of conservation partners, which form Scottish Wildcat Action - a coordinated effort to bring the tenacious hunters back from the brink.
Conservationists have hailed the latest kitten as “another lifeline for the species” and it is hoped that future generations will be reintroduced to the wild.
Tim Rowlands, the zoo’s Curator of Mammals, said, “Unlike domestic cats who can have several litters a year, Scottish Wildcats will usually only have one, so every birth is really, really significant.”
“The kitten was born to parents, Einich and Cromarty, in August but, given their incredibly elusive nature, had not been caught on camera until now. It’s ever so special to see just how active the kitten already is and how she’s already starting to practice the skills that these magnificent, stealth hunters use to pounce on their prey.”
Tim continued, “Conservation breeding in zoos is a key component in the wider plan to prevent Scottish Wildcats from disappearing altogether – and each new arrival offers another lifeline for the species. The hope is that the safety net population being bred by our carnivore experts will be released into the highlands of Scotland in the future. We’re very much part of the vision to restore and maintain a wild population of the stunning Scottish Wildcat for the long term.”
Trail camera technology is revolutionizing the way in which conservationists are able to estimate the population density and assess the genetic viability of Wildcat populations. In tandem with the breeding programme, the zoo has also funded camera traps to support monitoring work in the Scottish highlands. Using 347 trail cameras, Scottish Wildcat Action recently conducted the largest every survey of the species in wildcat priority areas.
The camera trap images allow experts to assess and score certain coat or ‘pelage’ characteristics of each cat - pelage being the cats’ hair. This process classifies each one as domestic, hybrid, or wildcat and will help target conservation action.