The Saving Wildcats partnership project has reached several important milestones this year, including the birth of 22 wildcat kittens at its conservation breeding for release centre, located in a quiet area away from visitors at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park.
These kittens could be the first of their kind to be released into the wild in the UK. However, the Saving Wildcats team have lots to do to prepare these feisty wee wildcats ahead of the first releases, which are planned for 2023.
At the moment, the kittens are still living with their siblings and mums in natural breeding enclosures, which have provided the mums with perfect conditions to give birth and raise their kittens into fierce (but smaller) versions of themselves. Wildcats are solitary animals and would typically leave mum to fend for themselves from six to eight months old. To mimic this natural process, the kittens will be moved into pre-release enclosures. Each wildcat kitten will need space to develop their innate hunting and tracking skills, improve their climbing ability on structures specifically designed to mirror natural habitats, and learn how to find dens suitable for sheltering from harsh Highland weather. It is vital that the pre-release enclosures offer the wildcats these opportunities in preparation for a challenging life in the wild.
The Saving Wildcats team are currently in the process of building and furnishing these large enclosures, which is no small feat! Thankfully, the project team have been lucky to have received assistance from dedicated volunteers, as part of the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s volunteer programme.
The team have been working in the rainy and muddy conditions, with their trusty Muck Boots keeping their toes dry, and their ankles supported, while carrying logs, digging holes, putting up fences, and building climbing structures. We’re so grateful to Muck Boot for kitting our team out in boots that can withstand the gruelling demands we place on them!
Our field team have also been doing lots of preparation in the potential release area, continuing to find out ecological data that will help us to understand how the wildcats may react once they are released. From looking for signs of rabbit warrens, to trekking through muddy fields to replace batteries in remote camera traps, our team really get the most from their Muck Boots.
We’re excited for what the next year will bring us, and hope that we can begin to restore wildcats to the Scottish landscapes they belong (in our Muck Boots, of course!). We’d love for you to keep up to date with our project by signing up to our newsletter.
About the Saving Wildcats Project
The Saving Wildcats project is led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) in collaboration with NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage), Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS), The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), Norden’s Ark and Junta de Andalucía.
The project is funded with the contribution of the LIFE Programme of the European Union and the generous support of the Garfield Weston Foundation, The National Trust for Scotland, The People’s Trust for Endangered Species and The European Nature Trust.
More on the Saving Wildcats Project