Published Date: 27 May 2009
By CARINA NORRIS
WILD and wonderful
The Scottish wildcat is a powerful, beautiful creature, and since the extinction of the lynx, is our last remaining native feline. The wildcat embodies Scotland's untamable spirit, but experts estimate that there may be as few as 400 left in the wild. Here's how you can help save the Scottish wildcat from extinction.
SPREAD THE WORD: Plenty of people know little or nothing about wildcats – least of all how endangered they are.
Become "wildcat aware" by visiting the Highland Tiger website (www.highlandtiger.com), or support the Scottish Wildcat Association's campaigns via www.scottishwildcats.co.uk
BE A RESPONSIBLE (PET) CAT OWNER: If you live in a wildcat area (for example the Highlands, but virtually any part of Scotland north of the central belt), it's particularly important for you to have your pet neutered, so that it can't mate with wildcats and produce hybrids.
There are an estimated 3,500 hybrid wildcats in Scotland – cats aren't choosy when it comes to picking partners.
If you're in receipt of benefits, charities such as Cats Protection can provide vouchers towards the cost of neutering. It's also important to have pet cats vaccinated, to prevent them from transmitting fatal diseases.
REPORT WILDCAT SIGHTINGS: In order to protect the wildcat, we need to know how many there are, and where. But because these felines are so elusive, wildcat research is horribly difficult, and every report of a sighting of a wildcat, or a wildcat hybrid, is valuable. It's easy to confuse a wildcat with a big domestic moggy, but there are tell-tale signs, like the unbroken bands on a thick, blunt-ended tail, and the pattern of stripes on the coat. You can also download an ID chart from www.highlandtiger.com which is also where to report your sightings of wildcats and hybrids in the area of the Cairngorms.
To report sightings elsewhere in Scotland, e-mail sightings@scottish wildcats.co.uk. Make a note of where the cat was, the habitat it was in, and what it was doing. And if possible, take a photograph.
DRIVE CAREFULLY, AND REPORT WILDCATS KILLED ON THE ROADS: Sadly, wildcats have little road sense. They think they can stare down a car as they could a dog, with the obvious (and fatal) result.
However, roadkill cats do provide a means of studying them. So, if you find a dead wildcat on the road, the best thing to do is contact your local Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) office (see www.snh.gov.uk for locations).
Carcasses found in the Cairngorms National Park can be dropped off at the Highland Wildlife Park, near Kincraig (01540 651270) or the SNH office in Aviemore (01479 810477).
If you really couldn't bear the thought of picking up the cat, you could still take a photo, and report where it was found.
RAISE MONEY FOR WILDCATS: You can buy wildcat-related products, make a donation, or adopt a wildcat at the Highland Wildlife Park, to raise money for wildcat conservation and research, and to expand breeding facilities to support the wild population. To support or join the Scottish Wildcat Association visit www.scottishwildcats.co.uk
For more information go to www.highlandtiger.com
• Carina Norris is a science writer based in Fife.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org