A group of young Scottish wildcats, bred in captivity, have been released into the Cairngorms National Park in a bid to save the species from extinction.
The 22 cats were set free last week as part of the Saving Wildcats project, led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and supported by a number of conservation and governmental organisations.
The Scottish wildcat is considered to be “functionally extinct” in the wild, with only 100 to 300 individuals remaining. The main threats to the species are hybridization with feral domestic cats, disease and habitat loss.
The project was inspired by the successful recovery of the Iberian lynx in Spain, which was also achieved through captive breeding and release programs. The project’s partners include Andalucia’s Ministry of Sustainability, Environment and Blue Economy, which led the lynx recovery.
David Field, Saving Wildcats’ director, said: “The time is now to give the ‘Highland Tiger’ the best chance of survival and I am thankful for the work of our team members, partners and supporters in making this happen.”
The released wildcats will be monitored using GPS-radio collars and will be supported by supplementary feeding and veterinary care. The project plans to release about 60 wildcats over the next three years.
Helen Senn, Saving Wildcats project lead and RZSS head of conservation, said: “When the time comes, we will be able to move wildcats under licence from pre-release enclosures at Highland Wildlife Park to carefully selected areas in the Cairngorms Connect landscape which provide a suitable mix of habitats and potential prey for the species. After release, the wildcats will be monitored using GPS collars as they face the many challenges of life in the wild.”
The project has received support from the Scottish government, NatureScot, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Forestry and Land Scotland, and the local community in the Cairngorms.
Lorna Slater, Scotland’s Biodiversity Minister, said: “Reversing the dramatic losses in nature that we have seen in recent times is one of the defining challenges that our country faces. The Scottish government remains committed to this fight and is actively working towards protecting and restoring our natural environment and the animals that rely upon it.”
Saving Scottish wildcats is important for biodiversity because they are a native species that plays a key role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. They help control rodent populations and provide food for other predators such as eagles and foxes. They are also part of Scotland’s cultural heritage and identity.
– Scottish wildcats bred in captivity released to the wild in a bid to save the species from extinction, CNN, June 15, 2023
– Wildcats bred in captivity released into Cairngorms, BBC News, June 18, 2023
– Scottish Wildcats: Kittens bred in captivity released in national park, Herald Scotland, June 15, 2023
– Captive-bred Scottish wildcats released into Cairngorms National Park, The Scotsman, June 16, 2023