The Scottish Wildcat Association say that evidence collected suggest that there are only around 100 animals in the wild and that total extinction may occur as soon as this year, 2013, if urgent measures to protect the wildcat are not put in place.
The Scottish wildcat used to roam across Britain in ancient times but the advance of civilisation forced them to move into the Highlands of Scotland. Scottish clans took the image of the wildcat as their talisman during battles and the animal is an intrinsic part of Scottish heritage.
Far from being cuddly kitties, the Scottish wildcats have a fearsome reputation with stories told of them evading shepherds to steal lambs and even a tale of a mother cat taking on a Golden Eagle to defend her kittens.
The animal looks like a large tabby cat but with more muscle and well defined black and brown stripes. Males can weigh up to 9 kilograms and females up to 7 kilograms. Fossilised examples have been found that measure four feet from nose to tail and that would have weighed around fourteen kilograms. They are mainly nocturnal, hunting at dusk and dawn and are solitary animals.
The Cairngorms National Park has been identified as a stronghold for the wildcats and is the centre of conservation projects.Will Boyd-Wallis of the Cairngorms National Park Authority said that one of the strengths of the Cairngorms Wildcat project was the combination of voluntary effort by land managers, gamekeepers and by Cats Protection alongside rigorous camera trap research. “We are determined to assist the action group in encouraging this to continue in the Cairngorms National Park and elsewhere”.
The Scottish Minister for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham has said: “While smaller than the big cats found elsewhere they have the heart of a lion and are the tigers of our Highlands. I feel passionately about conserving them for the benefit of future generations.”
Experts from various organisations such as Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, amongst others, are working together to try and save the Scottish Wildcat. Their main enemies are unfortunately humans, with gamekeepers killing the cats to keep them away from shooting grounds in the Highlands. Interbreeding with domestic cats is also leading to the decline in the species.
A national campaign has been launched to protect the species and to raise awareness. If this last ditch effort fails, another rare animal will pass onto the list of extinct species.