Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: Scottish wildcat

Nominated by: Scottish Wildcat Action

Why do you love it?

The Scottish wildcat is a really charismatic species of cat that lives in the Scottish Highlands. It features on many clan crests and is a part of Scottish folklore so it’s part of our Scottish identity. Sadly there aren’t many of them left. Latest estimates suggest there could be as few as 100 in the wild.

Wildcats are built like a mini tiger but they are only slightly larger than a tabby domestic cat. If you look closely you can see they have longer limbs and a wider head with a powerful jaw. These are good for catching and eating live prey.

The most notable difference is the thick bushy tail which has black rings and a blunt black tip as though it has been dipped in paint. It’s a beautiful animal with some serious attitude.

What are the threats to the Scottish wildcat?

The biggest threat today actually comes from domestic cats that haven’t been neutered or vaccinated. Although Scottish wildcats are our native cat and domestic cats were introduced by humans much later, they can still interbreed and even catch the same diseases.

The Scottish wildcat is now a protected species but it is so heavily outnumbered by domestic cats that it’s difficult for them to find and mate with another wildcat, and instead they often mate with domestic cats and have hybrid kittens. These hybrids have mixed wildcat and domestic cat ancestry and as hybridisation continues with each successive generation, the wildcat genes are being diluted. Soon we will lose our native cat altogether.

Every time they come into contact with a domestic cat they are also at risk of catching diseases because mating or fighting over territory passes on infectious diseases like feline leukaemia (FeLV) or feline Aids (FIV).

Historically, humans hunted wildcats and this reduced their numbers. People still hunt cats today, but now they aim to shoot unowned domestic cats living in the wild (known as feral cats) as a legal method of controlling predators. However, it can be easy to mistake a domestic cat with a wildcat if shooting at night or using snares.

What are you doing to save it?

The good news is that, thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Wildcat Action is working with over 20 partner organisations and lots of local people to protect wildcats in the wild. Our friends at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland are also breeding them for later release.

Wildcats are notoriously elusive and very cunning. With the added issue of hybridisation, it’s difficult to even identify them in the wild. Thankfully, new technology is helping us to find out where they are. We use hundreds of motion-sensitive trail cameras to gather images of cats living in the wild and this helps us target our conservation work more effectively. Using the intelligence from the trail cameras, we can also find out where there are feral cat hotspots and target them for neutering and vaccination. Ferals are domestic cats whose ancestors were once pets or farm cats that were abandoned or strayed; however, because they are a domesticated species they do not have the adaptations to cope with wild-living like the wildcat. These feral cats live a hard life, often riddled with disease and parasites, breeding with even their close relatives and scraping a living by scrounging from human food sources.

The best thing for them is to stop them from breeding further and making sure they are immune to some of the more common diseases. Once they have been neutered and vaccinated we return them to the wild because they are not socialised to humans. This way they also act as a buffer between wildcats and any new feral cats in the area who may not be neutered or vaccinated.

We rely on local sightings too and we have over 150 fantastic volunteers helping us to maintain the cameras, catch feral cats to take them to the vet, and to raise awareness of how cat owners can help by micro-chipping, neutering and vaccinating their pet cats. Finally, we are also working with our partner, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, to encourage the use of wildcat-friendly predator control methods so that wildcats are not accidentally caught in the crosshairs.


  • micheline moons (January 30th, 2017 at 12:21 pm):

    It’s a beautiful cat and we must protect her specie and I am also a volunteer in Belgium to help decrease the feral cats,
    to help them get neutered en vaccinated and I also feed one because she was so skinny!

  • vaz (January 30th, 2017 at 12:40 pm):

    Why do we love someone or an animal? Because we’re touched at the deepest in our heart and share this very unique feeling of symbiosis. We want to protect from harm this very special one and provide it with our constant and attentive care.

  • John Cromarty (February 1st, 2017 at 3:11 pm):

    5 reasons to vote for the Scottish wildcat:

    1. Many iconic endangered species, known nationally and internationally, attract significant funding to aid protection and conservation. This is not the case with the plight of the Scottish wildcat, not even in Scotland, far less in the UK or the world. Many of us have dipped into our pockets to help support larger cats or possibly elephants, rhinos, or apes, all elsewhere in the world. The time has come to balance this effort with tangible support for our own iconic species.

    2. Scotland has a track record of success in re-introducing some of the species it has lost. This is only possible when achieved through re- introduction of the same species from other countries, for example the white -tailed eagle, the red kite and the European beaver. This is not possible with the Scottish wildcat, which is unique to Scotland, albeit that there are captive breeding programmes in place, in preparation for a continuing decline in wildcat numbers.

    3. The number of pure Scottish wildcats left in the wild could be as low as 100 or less. Compare this, for example, with well known species which are classified as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A good example of this “endangered” classification, currently hitting the news headlines, would be chimpanzees, for which the estimate of the current numbers across all areas of Africa is around 470, 000. With very few remaining habitats currently occupied by the species, we are potentially within a generation of losing our native, distinctive and charismatic Scottish wildcat.

    4. Several important factors have predisposed the Scottish wildcat to extinction but perhaps the main current threat is interbreeding with domestic and feral cats, a particularly difficult factor to tackle, and one which, unimpeded, will ultimately lead to the extinction of UK’s only remaining wildcat.

    5. A significant vote for the Scottish wildcat in this “Favourite Unloved Species” ballot could do a great deal to help Scottish Wildcat Action, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and other wildcat conservationists secure the necessary level of public and community support to reverse the present relentless decline in the number of Scottish wildcats, our very own feisty wee tigers.

    Voting will cost you nothing, not voting might help seal the fate of a species which is worthy of your support!
    Like Africa, we have wild cats and we have a narrow window of opportunity to help secure them for the future.
    Please help by casting your vote for the Scottish wildcat.

    Thank you!