Image: © RZSS/Saving Wildcats

Scottish Wildcats One Step Closer to the Wild


The Animal Facts Editorial Team


April 24, 2023 10:22 pm


Kingussie, Scotland

A group of Scottish wildcats have moved a step closer to the wild this week providing hope for the future of their threatened species in Scotland. The wildcats are being prepared for their release in to the Cairngorms National Park this summer by moving them to in to specialised pre-release enclosures where they can obtain the skills they require for life in the wild.

The cats set to experience the wild were bred at the Saving Wildcats conservation breeding for release centre, based in Highland Wildlife Park, in 2021. NatureScot has approved a licence application from the Saving Wildcats partnership to release wildcats in the Cairngorms Connect area of Cairngorms National Park later this year

Led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the Saving Wildcats partnership is undertaking works to restore populations of the threatened Scottish wildcat. Most of their work involves breeding these cats in captivity and releasing them in to the Cairngorms Connect project area.

David Barclay, Saving Wildcats ex-situ conservation manager, said “It is fantastic to have passed this critical milestone in the project and exciting to take another important step forward in the plans to release wildcats this year. The journey to restore a viable wildcat population in Scotland is just beginning and we are incredibly grateful for the efforts of our team members, partners and supporters whose expertise has been crucial to reach this point.”

In 2022 the group established 20 large pre-release enclosures on site at Highland Wildlife Park. These natural spaces will help them develop the skills required for a life in the wild. Human disturbance is kept to a minimum in these enclosures and as a result they are not available for public viewing.

Mr Barclay continued “The large pre-release enclosures are designed to encourage the cats to exhibit their full repertoire of natural behaviours whilst promoting social interactions and communication between cats. Our expert keeper team also use a selection of tools and techniques to promote natural activity patterns whilst enhancing key skills needed for life in the wild, including hunting, foraging and scent marking. To compliment this, we have an extensive CCTV system which allows us to monitor the behaviour of the cats around the clock from our office, without any activity at the enclosures.”

Seven pairs of Scottish wildcats are also entering their second breeding season to help create the next generation which will be eligible for release to the wild. An eighth male is also awaiting the arrival of his new partner.

Saving Wildcats is led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland in collaboration with NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland, the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Norden’s Ark and Consejería de Medio Ambiente y Ordenación del Territorio de la 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, the European Nature Trust and the Scottish Government.

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Our Favourite Scottish Wildcat Fact!

Despite being similar in size the Scottish wildcat is a separate species from the domestic cat found in human homes across the globe. They inhabit a range of grassland and mixed forest habitats.

Image: © RZSS/Saving Wildcats

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