> Wildcats in the Angus Glens
Wildcats in the Angus Glens
Wildcats in the Angus Glens
The Scottish Wildcat is one of our most endangered native species. We currently have no reliable estimates for the numbers of wildcats remaining in the wild, but they are highly endangered. To reverse this decline, the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan was launched in autumn 2013. It was developed by Scottish Wildcat Action with input from a large and diverse group of stakeholders including Scottish Land & Estates, BASC, NFU Scotland, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).
Keepers in the Angus Glens have been assisting the project with camera trapping. A sighting of a possible Scottish wildcat enjoying a meal of rabbit has been caught on one of the trail cameras being looked after by Angus Glens’ Head Gamekeeper, Bruce Cooper. Bruce, a member of Angus Glens Moorland Group, was checking the SD Card when he saw the cat with highly distinctive markings. Images of the cat have now been sent by Mr Cooper to the project team for identification before it is decided what the next steps should be. Wildcats have a thick, ringed blunt tail with no stripe and tabby markings. However, interbreeding between wildcats and domestic cats, particularly ferals, has made identification more challenging.
The glens of Angus were identified last year as being one of the six priority areas for wildcat conservation and the grouse estate where the sighting was recorded lies within the Cairngorms National Park.
Hebe Carus, Scottish Wildcat Action project officer who is leading activity in the Angus Glens and Northern Strathspey areas, said: “Reliable identification requires having a variety of different views of the cat and having the time to look for the 7 main defining features. Only after analysing the pictures Bruce has sent can I confirm whether the cat displays all the defining features of a genuine Scottish Wildcat.
“At the cameras there is also a scented post with velcro on to try to capture hairs so we can analyse DNA. So far, we have no hairs to analyse, but we hope the cat returns so we get more photos and possibly a hair sample.”
Around 300 motion-sensitive cameras are being operated by volunteers in priority areas across Scotland just now as part of the multi-partner project, assisted by funding from the Scottish Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The hope is to identify wildcats but also feral cats and hybrids (those with mixed ancestry) so that project officers can target conservation work to protect the endangered native cat in the wild.
At the same time, RZSS are leading a conservation breeding programme. By working with land owners and gamekeepers the RZSS aim to source a number of wild caught wildcats from outside of priority areas that may be suitable for breeding. These will be paired with existing captive cats in new, purpose built, off show breeding enclosures at zoos, wildlife parks and estates to create a safety net for the species. They will later be released back into the wild to help boost local populations or to form entirely new ones.
More information about the project can be found at http://www.scottishwildcataction.org or you can find them on Facebook or Twitter @saveourwildcats