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Home // Research grants // Our UK mammal projects // Clinging on by a claw: saving wildcats from extinction

Clinging on by a claw: saving wildcats from extinction

The wildcat is Scotland’s rarest and most threatened mammal. Once widespread, the species is now on the brink of extinction. A sad history of habitat loss, persecution and interbreeding with domestic cats has forced the Highland tiger to a point where the population is no longer viable. Without urgent action, wildcats will be lost forever from Britain.

Wildcats in zoos, wildlife parks and private facilities now hold the key to saving their species, enabling captive-bred cats to be restored to the wild. PTES is providing funds for a critical new partnership project called Saving Wildcats. This six-year project, led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, will bring about the urgent action needed to prevent wildcats from becoming extinct in the UK.

Trouble on all fronts

Having crossed over to Britain at the end of the last ice age, approximately 9000 years ago, wildcats were a widespread species, at home in our countryside. But with intensification of land use during the Victorian era and subsequent habitat loss, wildcats were eradicated from England and Wales by the late nineteenth century. More recently, one of the biggest threats to the remaining wildcat population is interbreeding with feral domestic cats.

Breeding wildcats in captivity to bolster wild populations

With so few wildcats left in the wild, it seemed as though we were facing an impossible challenge to overcome. Luckily, decades of research have identified how and where to boost wildcat numbers sufficiently.

The Saving Wildcats partnership project has built Britain’s first large-scale conservation breeding-for-release centre for wildcats. Situated in a secluded part of the Cairngorms National Park, the team are hopeful that the first kittens will be born at the centre in 2022. Meanwhile, the project’s field team will be busy ensuring that the right areas for release are identified. It’s not just about suitable habitat but also making sure the local community is enthusiastic and that any threats that could stop the release being successful, are removed. This will also involve supporting a neutering programme for feral domestic cats in and around the project area. The first group of wildcats should be ready for release into the Scottish wilderness in 2023, with more releases planned to ensure their numbers remain resilient to pressures, and that wildcats are soon doing more than just clinging on by a claw.

This project is only possible with the invaluable support of a range of partners, funders and other contributors, including our generous donors. Can you help by donating today? 

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