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Grrrrrrreat news for the future of one of our most endangered species

By Tom Ramage

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Badenoch's Highland Wildlife Park owners, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is celebrating a record breeding year for the wildcat.

They announced today that no fewer than 57 kittens were born within the UK conservation breeding programme in 2020.

In total, 22 litters of kittens were welcomed across 10 of the many zoos, wildlife parks and private collections working with the wildlife conservation charity which has managed the captive population since 2015, ensuring it has the potential to support conservation efforts for the critically endangered species.

Ready for action! (Edinburgh Zoo)
Ready for action! (Edinburgh Zoo)

Following habitat loss, persecution and breeding with domestic cats, wildcats are on the brink of extinction in Britain and RZSS is also leading a new partnership project, Saving Wildcats, which aims to secure a future for the Highland tiger by breeding wildcats and releasing them into the wild.

David Barclay, Saving Wildcats ex-situ conservation manager and coordinator of the UK conservation breeding programme, said, “Wildcats are one of Britain’s rarest and most endangered mammals which means every one of these kittens is a potential lifeline.

“Over the last few years, the members of the wildcat breeding programme have demonstrated the immense value in working together to secure a future for this iconic species.”

As part of the Saving Wildcats project, a dedicated conservation breeding for release centre is being built at Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore. The centre will provide facilities for breeding, veterinary care, remote monitoring and training to prepare the cats for life in the wild, with the goal of releasing the first cats in 2022.

A pair of pioneers. Much rests on their success as breeders for the species (Camperdown Wildlife Park)
A pair of pioneers. Much rests on their success as breeders for the species (Camperdown Wildlife Park)

David added, “It has been a challenging year but we are really excited to be bringing together all the necessary resources and expertise to save Scotland’s wildcats, and incredibly grateful to everyone making this vital work possible."

The Saving Wildcats partnership is led by RZSS in collaboration with NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland, The Cairngorms National Park Authority, Norden’s Ark and Junta de Andalucía.

The project is supported by the LIFE Programme of the European Union as well as the Garfield Weston Foundation, The National Trust for Scotland, The People’s Trust for Endangered Species and The European Nature Trust.

Donations to help save Scotland’s wildcats are welcome at savingwildcats.org.uk

Anyone looking for some Christmas present inspiration can purchase a wildcat e-gift here

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