Vicky MacDonald is the Communications Coordinator for the Scottish Wildcat Action project. Here she gives us an insight into why this project is important and what their new website hopes to achieve.
It’s not every day you get to wear a cat suit, and this was no ordinary cat either. ‘William’ the wildcat is the official mascot for Scottish Wildcat Action, the first national project to save the wildcat, and one that Scottish Natural Heritage are key partners in. Our native cat has been in trouble for some time but William’s job (and mine) was to launch our new website, scottishwildcataction.org, at the Scottish Parliament on 1st September. This website not only represents months of planning but heralds the start of the action on the ground to protect what’s left of this rare and elusive species.
The website has easy-to-use functionality that allows people to report their sightings, not just of wildcats but also domestic cats living in the wild. These feral cats are proving to be a big problem for the Scottish wildcat because they are able to interbreed and produce fertile offspring with them. Now that wildcats are so rare, it is difficult for them to find other wildcats to mate with, so more and more hybrid kittens are born, diluting the gene pool and eventually wiping out the wildcat as a distinct species. On top of this hybridisation, feral cats are often riddled with disease and parasites which they can pass on to wildcats. It’s a hard life in the wild, so it’s not really surprising that Scottish wildcats only live to around 6 to 8 years of age.
Scottish Wildcat Action has just five years to reduce threats in the wild and start the process of boosting local populations through conservation breeding for release. The first step is gathering local intelligence and then launching an extensive Trap Neuter (Vaccinate) and Release programme in six wildcat priority areas. This will help ensure the feral cat populations are not such a threat. These areas are Strathpeffer, Strathbogie, Northern Strathspey, Angus Glens, Strathavon and Morvern. Project officers will also be working with local people here to protect wildcats from accidental persecution and hybridisation with pet cats.
William will have his part to play too at local events to help raise awareness of the plight of the Scottish wildcat. It’s such a striking and iconic animal, woven firmly into the fabric of the Highland culture that everyone has a story to tell about a wildcat. Sadly, they all seem to be from the past: ten, twenty, even fifty years ago.
Time is running out! We have just five years to make a big impact but, really, the long-term success lies with our local communities and fellow cat owners. The website will, I hope, be an important way to get people involved in the action and who knows, maybe in another ten years’ time, you’ll have one of those heart-stopping moments when you catch a glimpse of a Scottish wildcat and you just know you’ve seen something really special.