Wildcat 'on the brink' warning
WILDCAT populations are no longer viable and will soon be extinct unless serious efforts are taken to restore them, a landmark report published in the strath has warned.
The report, by the international Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) cat specialist group, was launched by conservationists and government ministers at the Highland Wildlife Park yesterday.
Its finding that there is no longer a viable population in the wild has intensified the focus on captive breeding programmes if the wildcat is to be saved.
Populations have crashed following persecution and increasing hybridisation with domestic cats.
Scottish Wildcat Action's (SWA) project partner, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), is progressing a series of options for the wildcat's sustainable future in partnership with a range of organisations, including a potential release programme of captive-bred wildcats and a national wildlife reintroduction centre.
SWA's steering group chairman, Dr Andrew Kitchener, said: "Wildcats are in a more endangered state than previously understood. While we believe there are wildcats remaining in the wild in Scotland, there are no longer enough to ensure their continued survival as viable populations. We can now plan the essential next steps to give the wildcat a sustainable future."
The RZSS, which runs the Highland Wildlife Park, believes its facilities at the park will be vital if the species is to be saved and feels it offers a "long-term solution".
"Our plans for a National Wildlife Reintroduction Centre at Highland Wildlife Park will provide the perfect environment for breeding genetically tested wildcats with the aim of releasing them back to the wild," said the society's cat conservation project officer, David Barclay.