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The Cairngorms National Park is one of the areas where the Scottish wildcat action plan is being implemented

Scotland’s wildcats are undoubtedly one of the most iconic mammals of the Cairngorms National Park and yet are on the brink of extinction. They are rarer than the Bengal tiger and the main threats to the future survival of the species are:

    • introgressive hybridisation (interbreeding) with domestic (especially feral) cats;
    • confusion in identifying wildcats during otherwise legal predator control activities;
    • fatal diseases spread by domestic cats;

The Cairngorms Wildcat Project ran from 2009 to 2012 and helped to raise awareness of the plight of the Scottish wildcat across the Cairngorms and beyond, while working with local people to reduce key threats. In 2013 the project won the RSPB Nature of Scotland Award for Innovation and was subsequently used as the template for the national action plan to save the species, delivered by Scottish Wildcat Action, which ran from 2015 until 2020. This project brought together all the most respected wildcat experts in Scotland, including scientists, conservationists, land managers and vets, and took practical action to prevent further decline across the whole of Scotland by:

  • working with local people in wildcat priority areas to reduce the risks of hybridisation, disease and accidental persecution;
  • breeding healthy wildcats for later release to boost the population through a conservation breeding programme;
  • gathering extensive data and sharing our findings to improve understanding of this elusive predator;

In 2019, a report published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Cat Specialist Group concluded there was no longer a self-sustaining wildcat population living wild in Scotland, with hybridisation with domestic cats identified as the major threat to their survival. The report recommended breeding wildcats for release whilst still reducing the threats that they face.

This led to formation of the Saving Wildcats (#SWAforLIFE) recovery project. Building on the work of the Scottish Wildcat Action partnership, Saving Wildcats is a European partnership project dedicated to Scottish wildcat conservation and recovery, aiming to prevent the extinction of wildcats in Scotland by breeding and releasing them into the wild.

Situated at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park near Kincraig, the centre provides facilities for breeding, veterinary care, remote monitoring and facilitation of behaviour development to prepare wildcats for release into the Cairngorms National Park.

Over the next six years, RZSS will lead the Saving Wildcats project in collaboration with NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland, the Cairngorms National Park Authority, as well as European partners Norden’s Ark from Sweden, which specialises in the restoration and conservation of Sweden’s native wildlife, and Spain’s Consejería de Sostenibilidad, Medio Ambiente y Economía Azul de la Junta de Andalucía which led the successful recovery of the Iberian lynx, once the planet’s most endangered cat species. Releases are being conducted with the support of Cairngorms Connect.