5th May 2009
THE iconic Scottish wildcat has its first ever dedicated officer under a partnership project aimed at securing the future of the endangered species.
The wildcat has been around since the end of the Ice Age but, threatened by hybridisation with the closely-related domestic cat, is now on the brink of extinction, With estimates that there may be as few as 400 pure wildcats left in the UK, the Scottish Wildcat is now rarer than the tiger! A project has been launched in one of its last strongholds, the Cairngorms National Park, in a bid to help secure its future.
The Cairngorms Wildcat Project will develop greater understanding of the problems facing wildcats and implement measures to safeguard surviving wildcat populations, as well as create favourable conditions for the elusive species to survive in the future.
Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham, while visiting the Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig, (Today, Tuesday May 5th) to learn about the project and meet the wildcat officer said “The Scottish Wildcat is one of Scotland’s most charismatic species but unfortunately, also one of our most threatened. I feel passionately about conserving them for the benefit of future generations.
“However, by utilising the expertise and skills of the range of partners involved, I am hopeful the Wildcat Project can reverse these fantastic animals fortunes.
“While smaller than the big cats found elsewhere, they have the heart of a lion and are the tigers of our Highlands, it would be tragic to lose them when their demise is preventable.”
Project Manager Dr David Hetherington, the country’s first Scottish wildcat officer, said: “The project aims both to raise awareness of the plight of the Scottish Wildcat, and get gamekeepers, ecologists, vets, cat welfare groups, and the public at large all pulling together to save a Scottish icon from extinction.”
The launch of the project was welcomed by SNH Director of Operations North Susan Davies, who said: “The Scottish Wildcat is identified in Scotland’s Species Action Framework as one of our most exciting and charismatic species but also one of our most threatened.
“SNH is committed to supporting targeted conservation work which will deliver on the ground results and improve survival prospects for the Scottish Wildcat and funding the Scottish Wildcat Project in the Cairngorms National Park is a further significant step forward. SNH will continue to work with a variety of partners to lay the ground for the wildcat’s recovery and future survival as a distinct native species.”
The project builds on a conference which took place last April in Aviemore that canvassed the views of a wide range of people on ways forward for wildcat conservation. It will provide land managers, such as gamekeepers, and other members of the public with information on how to tell wildcats, domestic cats and hybrids apart so that they can help monitor the wildcat population and the extent of hybridisation with domestic cats. By working with local vets and cat welfare groups, the project will also encourage responsible domestic cat ownership. Cat owners can help to conserve wildcats by neutering and vaccinating their pets, which reduce the risk of hybridisation and the spread of fatal diseases, two of the biggest threats to the wildcat’s continued existence in Scotland.
Partners involved are: Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA); Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH); Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS); Royal Zoological Society Scotland (RZSS) and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA)
The project website, http://www.highlandtiger.com/, has also been launched. It contains a wealth of information about the wildcat, will keep the public updated on the success of the project, will advise how they can contribute to the wildcat conservation and will host a regular blog from the project officer.