Frequently asked questions

Saving Wildcats (#SWAforLife) is a European partnership project dedicated to Scottish wildcat conservation and recovery.

Building on the work of Scottish Wildcat Action, the project is a step change for wildcat conservation in Scotland which now has an increased focus on captive breeding for release in order to safeguard this iconic species from extinction.

By bringing together the expertise and skills of national and international organisations, we can secure a future for the Highland tiger by breeding and releasing wildcats into the wild.

If you have a question, please read our FAQs below and email us if you need more information:

  • Why we need to save Scotland's wildcats

    Are wildcats extinct in Scotland?

    No, wildcats are classified as critically endangered. However, they are now on the brink of extinction in Britain following widespread population declines as a result of centuries of persecution and habitat loss. More recently, the dwindling wildcat population has become increasingly threatened by genetic extinction caused by extensive interbreeding (also known as hybridisation) with domestic cats.

    Sadly, Scotland’s wildcat population is now considered ‘non-viable’ following an independent review by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. This means that although there may be some wild-living wildcats in Scotland, there are too few of them and hybridisation is too far advanced for them to form a self-sustaining population. Without urgent action, our wildcats will be lost forever.

    The IUCN report concluded wildcat releases, at suitably prepared sites, are now essential for the recovery of the species.

    Read more about the importance of an evidence-based approach to Scottish wildcat conservation and the many years of scientific research our project has been informed by

    Why should we save the wildcat?

    The wildcat is our rarest and most threatened mammal.

    Once widespread, the species is now on the brink of extinction in Britain following widespread population declines as a result of centuries of persecution and habitat loss. More recently, the dwindling wildcat population has become increasingly threatened by genetic extinction caused by extensive interbreeding (also known as hybridisation) with domestic cats.

    The species also has a long history in Scottish culture and mythology. It was revered by many Highland clans who used the wildcat in their clan crests. The wildcat is also one of Scotland’s most iconic species, embodying wild nature for the Scottish Highlands.

    As human activity is responsible for the wildcat's decline, we have a responsibility to take action to protect our Highland tigers.

    Find out how you can help

    What’s the difference between Scottish and European wildcats?

    The scientific name for both Scotland’s wildcats and the European wildcat is Felis silvestris silvestris, meaning they are the same species.

    However, our wildcat population has been isolated for around 10,000 years, after Britain became an island. This means Scotland’s wildcats are a unique, highly threatened, sub-population of the European wildcat.

    Through careful population management, Saving Wildcats will ensure that the Scottish gene pool is preserved as much as possible, for future generations. There is potential for mainland European wildcats to boost the genetic diversity of the Scottish population, which could give them the greatest chance of survival in the wild. This is an option under consideration.

    How do we know if a cat is a wildcat?

    Due to interbreeding between wildcats and domestic cats (feral or pet), there are some wild-living cats that have a mixture of wildcat and domestic cat genes and characteristics. These are called hybrids.

    Saving Wildcats uses a combination of assessing coat markings (pelage scoring) and genetic tests to identify wildcats. This helps ensure that wildcats are protected, whilst hybrids and feral cats are neutered to prevent further hybridisation taking place.

    All wildcats released from the conservation breeding centre will have passed the pelage and genetic criteria to ensure that any hybridisation is at the lowest possible level.


  • How Saving Wildcats plans to save our wildcats

    What is Saving Wildcats?

    Saving Wildcats (#SWAforLife) is a European partnership project dedicated to Scottish wildcat conservation and recovery. We aim to prevent the extinction of wildcats in Scotland by releasing them into the wild.

    Following on from the work of Scottish Wildcat Action, our plans include building Britain's only large-scale conservation breeding centre, where wildcats will be trained and then released into the Cairngorms National Park.

    Find out more

    Why are releases needed if there are still wildcats in the wild?

    Wildcats are on the brink of extinction in Britain, following widespread population declines caused by centuries of persecution and habitat loss. More recently, the dwindling wildcat population has become increasingly threatened by genetic extinction caused by extensive interbreeding (also known as hybridisation) with domestic cats.

    Sadly, Scotland’s wildcat population is now considered ‘non-viable’ following an independent review by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. This means that although there may be some wild-living wildcats in Scotland, there are too few of them and hybridisation is too far advanced for them to form a self-sustaining population. Without urgent action, our wildcats will be lost forever.

    The IUCN report concluded wildcat releases at suitably prepared sites are now essential for the recovery of the species.

    Why are we focussing on the Cairngorms National Park?

    The Cairngorms National Park has, historically, been a key site in the wildcat range and was considered one of the last strongholds for species. In 2008, a major conference for wildcat conservation took place within the National Park. This resulted in the launch of the Park's first practical wildcat conservation project, ‘The Cairngorms Wildcat Project’, which was part of Scotland’s Species Action Framework.

    This project played an important role in developing stakeholder relationships, raising awareness, and establishing field protocols and methodologies. Later, this work was complemented by the Scottish Wildcat Action project, which expanded conservation action across Scotland, whilst maintaining a presence in the Cairngorms National Park.

    Find out more about the history of wildcat conservation in Scotland

    In addition to conservation work and an existing scientific research base, the National Park has relatively few landowners, many of whom have conservation objectives. It is also one of the largest continuous areas of potential suitable habitat in northern Scotland, with good prey availability and more potential for reducing threats, given the remote setting.

    The Saving Wildcats conservation breeding for release centre, based at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore, is where wildcats will be bred and prepared for release away from public view.

    We'll also be working internationally, as the project staff will receive some training at the Iberian lynx breeding centre in Spain and at Nordens Ark in Sweden.  

    How many wildcats will be released and when?

    We hope to carry out the first wildcat releases in 2023. This is dependent on a range of factors, including release site preparations, threat control measures and pre-release training programmes.

    The plan is to release 20 wildcats each year from the Saving Wildcats conservation breeding centre. We are also considering translocating wildcats from European populations to help boost the Scottish gene pool. These individuals will have undergone an extensive pre-release training programme to ensure they are prepared for life in the wild.

    All released wildcats will be fitted with GPS collars to ensure their movements, activity patterns and behaviours can be monitored. The project area will also be systematically monitored using a network of camera-traps.

    What is meant by pre-release training?

    Our pre-release training programme is our way of developing the necessary life skills that the cats will need for life in the wild. It is important to note that it is illegal to feed live prey to the wildcats. Instead, the programme will include the development of tools (e.g. automated feeders, lures etc.) that will help promote and expand key behaviours, as well as physical and mental fitness. Key behaviours include hunting, foraging, social interactions and avoidance toward human presence.   

    Before release, the wildcats will have veterinary health checks to ensure they are free from disease and physically healthy. 

    What happens after the six years are over?

    Although Saving Wildcats has secured funding for an initial six years, the recovery of wildcats will be a long-term project taking many decades.

    An important part of the project plan was building in sustainability and the continuation of actions. The project partners have already committed to supporting further wildcat recovery action beyond the six years.

    Saving Wildcats will fundraise throughout this time to ensure wildcat recovery can continue long into the future.

    You can help secure a future for Scotland’s wildcats.

    Will Saving Wildcats bring cats from Europe?

    Scottish wildcats are a sub-population of the mainland European population, not a sub-species. However, Saving Wildcats will preserve as many of the Scottish genes as possible through careful and selective breeding. The wildcats we release will predominantly be of Scottish origin.

    There is potential for mainland European wildcats to boost the genetic diversity of the Scottish population, which could give them the greatest chance of survival in the wild. This is an option under consideration. The European wildcats may come from either the European captive breeding programme or from the wild, where possible.

    If appropriate, we will also explore the option of wild-to-wild translocation as another means of increasing the gene pool of the Scottish population.

    While the IUCN red list assessment determines hybridisation with domestic cats is extensive and evident across almost the entire range of the wildcat in Europe, research has shown that the extent of hybridisation in Scotland is far greater than most other European countries. Any cats brought into the breeding programme or translocated will be screened for disease and hybridisation levels.

    What is a translocation?

    A translocation involves people moving living organisms from one area to another. For the Saving Wildcats project, ‘translocation’ refers to moving wildcats from the conservation breeding for release centre to carefully selected sites within the Cairngorms National Park.

    What is a translocation licence and what does it cover?

    In Scotland, a licence is issued by NatureScot to approve translocations, in this case, wildcats. The application process covers a wide range of topics that must be considered before movements take place, including animal welfare, site suitability, public and landowner support and any biological risks. Details of ongoing monitoring and management are also crucial, as well as evidence of community consultation and outreach plans. The licence is in place to ensure the Scottish Code for Translocations is being met.

    More information about the translocation licence and application process is available on the NatureScot website.

    Why did Saving Wildcats need to apply for a translocation licence?

    Saving Wildcats aims to release wildcats into the wild, which is known as a conservation translocation project. In Scotland, all conservation translocation projects require a licence before any animals can be released. The Saving Wildcats partnership project submitted an application in September 2022, which required months of preparation, research and extensive data collection.

    The application was approved and a licence was issued by NatureScot. The licence permits Saving Wildcats to release wildcats within the Cairngorms Connect Partnership Boundary and surrounding areas of contiguous habitat.

    You can view our licence and original application form. One section of the application is still being processed, and will be made available to the public in due course. Sensitive location information and personal data have been withheld.

  • Our partners and supporters - and why they're involved

    Saving Wildcats project partners

    The conservation breeding for release of wildcats is being carried out by the Saving Wildcats partnership, led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) in collaboration with NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS), the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), Norden’s Ark and Consejería de Medio Ambiente y Ordenación del Territorio de la Junta de Andalucía.

    By bringing together the expertise and skills of national and international organisations, we can secure a future for the Highland tiger.

    Lead partner

    The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) is the wildlife conservation charity that leads Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park, as well as supporting a wide range of research and conservation projects in Scotland and around the world. With a mission to safeguard threatened species and connect people to nature, RZSS were a key partner in Scottish Wildcat Action and are the current holders of the UK’s captive breeding programme.

    Other Scottish partners

    NatureScot (formerly called Scottish Natural Heritage) is Scotland’s nature agency, working to improve the natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it. NatureScot promotes, cares for and improves Scotland’s natural heritage, enabling a greater awareness of nature and helping people to enjoy nature responsibly. Looking to the future, NatureScot promotes the sustainable use of natural assets now. NatureScot was the lead organisation in the Scottish Wildcat Action partnership.

    Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) is the Scottish Government agency responsible for managing Scotland’s national forests and land. FLS is focused on managing and maintaining the woodland of national forest estates through forest planning, planting, harvesting, working with local communities, and providing facilities and access for the public. Furthering the conservation of biodiversity is a statutory duty for FLS and the agency was a key partner in Scottish Wildcat Action.   

    The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) was set up to ensure that the unique aspects of the Cairngorms – both the natural environment and the local communities – are cared for, sustained and enhanced for current and future generations to enjoy. Providing leadership to all those involved in the Cairngorms and working in partnership with a range of communities, businesses, non-government organisations and public sector partners to deliver practical solutions on the ground. The CNPA were also a key partner in Scottish Wildcat Action.

    European partners:

    Our European partners bring a variety of unique skills and expertise to the Saving Wildcats project.

    Both organisations have extensive experience with native species recovery projects and Junta De Andalucía leads the EU LIFE funded project for Iberian lynx, which is widely considered as one of the most successful recovery projects in the world.

    Saving Wildcats has a fantastic opportunity to learn from these partners, applying tried and tested techniques to both the conservation breeding for release centre and post-release monitoring actions.    

    Junta de Andalucia (Spain) leads Europe’s most successful carnivore reintroduction, having become dedicated to the recovery and conservation of Iberian lynx. Their extensive and proven experience follows several years of successful lynx reintroduction, as the lead partner of the EU LIFE Recovery of the historical distribution for Iberian lynx in Spain & Portugal project.

    Nordens Ark (Sweden) is a private, non-profit foundation dedicated to endangered species conservation. Whilst engaged in conservation, animal management, research, training, and raising awareness of biological diversity, Nordens Ark have led and partnered on multiple recovery projects and conservation projects in Sweden and overseas.

    Key Supporters

    In addition to support from project partners, Saving Wildcats 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.

    Find out more about our supporters

  • Saving Wildcats funding

    How much will it cost to save the species?

    Saving Wildcats is a £5.4 million project funded with the contribution of the LIFE Programme of the European Union and the generous support of RZSS, NatureScot, CNPA, FLS, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Government, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the National Trust for Scotland, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, and The European Nature Trust, players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, and Rewilding Europe’s European Wildlife Comeback Fund.

    Our project plans include developing Britain’s first dedicated conservation breeding for release centre for wildcats, which will support a long-term vision for wildcat recovery in other key locations of Scotland 

    The first phase of Saving Wildcats runs for six years, but we believe there will be many economic benefits that will last long into the future. Scottish wildlife tourism plays a significant role in the Scottish economy and bringing wildcats back will boost wildlife tourism in the area and the surrounding local communities.   

    Find out how you can help save Scotland’s wildcats

  • Responsible cat ownership

    How do I report a wildcat sighting?

    While evidence shows there are very few wild-living cats that meet the genetic and pelage criteria for wildcats, you can submit your sighting/image(s) to iRecord, as our field team have direct access to this nationwide data.

    These databases will help our field team when we go on to assess additional potential release sites in the future.

    If you live within the Strathspey/Badenoch area, and you think you've seen a possible wildcat, you can contact us directly by emailing take a look at our dedicated website page for more information. 

    I've seen a feral (unowned) cat. What do I do?

    If you've seen a feral cat you can submit your sighting/image(s) to iRecord, as our field team have direct access to this nationwide data. 

    If you are regularly feeding feral cat(s) or have seen feral kittens and live within the Strathspey/Badenoch area and please contact us urgently by emailing

    Can I have my pet cat tested for wildcat DNA?

    Genetic testing for wildcat DNA is not currently offered by Saving Wildcats to the wider public due to the cost (it is a very expensive process) and welfare considerations (obtaining a good quality sample requires a blood test or plucked hair sample, which should not be carried out unnecessarily).

    Under certain circumstances, the project team may test suspected wildcats in and around the project area, or those that may otherwise contribute directly towards wildcat conservation in Scotland. For all other cases, our experts will assess cats based on their pelage score (coat markings). 

    Can you help me have my cats neutered?

    It’s great that you want to get your cat neutered. Responsible pet ownership is vital to ensuring the future success of wildcat restoration in Scotland.

    Neutering prevents unwanted pregnancies and neutered cats live longer and healthier lives.

    Please contact your local veterinary practice for further information. If you require financial assistance, Cats Protection may be able to help- contact your local branch to find out if you may be eligible: Find your local branch | Cats Protection.

    Where can I find more information about vaccinating my cat?

    Contact your local veterinary practice for more information about vaccinating your cat.

    Why is vaccinating my pet cat important?

    Vaccinations help to protect your domestic cat from severe infectious diseases. It also prevents them from passing some infections to other animals in your area.

    The most commonly available vaccines are used to provide protection against the following infections:

    • feline viral rhinotracheitis (a flu-like illness caused by a herpesvirus)
    • feline calicivirosis (a flu-like illness with inflammation of the mouth caused by a calicivirus)
    • feline chlamydiosis (a flu-like illness caused by the bacterium C. felis)
    • feline panleucopenia (a serious illness causing bloody diarrhoea caused by a parvovirus)
    • feline leukaemia (an illness affecting the immune system caused by a retrovirus, feline leukaemia virus)

    All of these infections could potentially be passed on to wildcats if your pet cat is carrying the disease.

    What is microchipping and why is it important?

    Microchipping is a safe, easy and effective procedure to identify your cat. A small chip (around the size of a grain of rice) is inserted under your cat’s skin by your vet during a routine appointment. This microchip gives your cat their own unique code which is registered by the vet on a national database. It usually costs around £25 and is very quick to do. 

    If your cat were to go missing and be found by someone else, the microchip would be scanned at the vets and matched to your contact details. Don’t forget to make sure your contact details and address are up to date, for example, if you move to a new house. There have been many success stories where pets have been reunited with their owners after years apart! In fact, Cats Protection helped reunite 2,500 lost cats with their owners in 2019, because they were microchipped.

    Microchipping of pet cats will soon be a legal requirement in England and is being discussed in parliament in Scotland. This will bring the law for pet cats in line with the law for pet dogs. 

  • Scottish wildcat behavior

    What do wildcats eat?

    Wildcats are predominantly small mammal hunters. They prefer to prey on rodents, such as mice and field voles, whenever readily available. They are also capable of catching larger species, such as rabbits and hare.

    A much less significant portion of their diet may include birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects.

    How many wildcats make a viable population?

    Based on previous wildcat survey and scoping work carried out in 2014, it was suggested that a population of 40 cats (20 male and 20 female) would stand a 95% chance of survival over 50 years. The survey also noted that such a population would need at least 4,000ha of suitable habitat, in a matrix of other habitat types.

    Habitat modelling of one site, within the Cairngorms National Park, showed that 37.3% of the habitat (around 22,123 ha) was of high quality, within a range of other mixed habitats.

    Saving Wildcats will release 60 wildcats, over a three-year period, with the aim of establishing a minimum population size of 40 wildcats. 

    Is there a danger to other cats near the project area?

    Wildcats prefer to avoid confrontation with other animals. Instead, they use a variety of communicative techniques to mark territories, den sites and to warn off other animals, such as scent marking, scats (faeces) and scratch posts. However, just like domestic cats, wildcats are protective of their territories and young, and they will defend them if provoked by other animals.  

    Although we know from the extensive level of interbreeding in Scotland that wildcats and domestic cats can exist in close proximity, it is anticipated that domestic cat presence in and around the project area will be minimal, following promotion of responsible cat ownership and threat control actions.

    As feral domestic cats and hybrids pose a significant risk to wildcats, through both hybridisation and disease, they will be controlled using a Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return policy.

    In situations where the health of a feral domestic cat is compromised, or if they are considered a disease risk to wildcats, then they will be humanely euthanized by a qualified veterinarian.

    Are released wildcats a threat to people or livestock?

    No. Wildcats prefer to avoid humans and there is no evidence to suggest that they will be a threat to livestock. Wildcats specialise in small mammal prey, particularly rodents and rabbits.

    Just like domestic cats, wildcats are protective of their territories and young, and they will defend them if provoked by other animals. As with other wild animals, it is recommended people do not provoke or disturb wildcats in the event of any encounter.

    Occasionally, wildcats are known to take chickens. However, any chickens that are protected from other typical predators, such as pine martens, foxes and badgers, will also be protected from the low risk of wildcat predation.

    Would reintroducing lynx in Scotland affect our wildcats?

    We have no grounds to believe that any future credible Lynx reintroduction project would be of concern to wildcats. Eurasian lynx and European wildcats co-exist in similar habitats throughout Europe, as they did in Scotland for thousands of years. Lynx can prey on wildcats but this is a rare occurrence. In terms of potential competition for food, they hunt different prey species and each fills a different ecological niche.

    The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, lead partner of the Saving Wildcats project, is committed to supporting the recovery of a wide range of Scottish animals. Together with our lead partner, our combined vision is a world where our nature is protected, valued and loved by the many diverse communities of Scotland.

    Will restoring wildcats have any impact on capercaillie?

    Wildcats and capercaillie co-exist in countries across their European range, where they predominantly occupy different habitats. To the best of our current knowledge, there is no evidence that wildcats predate capercaillie. Wildcats primarily eat small mammals and preferentially eat rabbits when they are available. We have conducted a thorough assessment of potential ecological impacts of wildcat restoration on capercaillie as part of the Habitats Regulations Appraisal required for any work conducted in European sites (Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas), and this information has also been used to inform our translocation license application, submitted to NatureScot.

    Will restoring the wildcat have any impact on pine martens?

    Wildcats and pine martens co-exist in countries across their European range. There is a large ongoing study on predator interactions within the potential release site and we will monitor any interactions between pine martens and wildcats as part of the project.

  • Managing threats to Scotland's wildcats

    When did hybridisation start in the UK?

    Genetic research published in 2021 suggests that significant hybridisation began approximately 60 years ago. Likewise, museum specimens suggest that the hybridisation rate escalated sometime after the 1950s. You can find out more about this research by watching this video.

    A key turning point may have been during the 1970-1980s, when wildcats lost rabbits as a key food source after repeated disease outbreaks. This in addition to intensive and widespread persecution prior to legal protection in 1988.

    Increases in road traffic and the development of roads may have also led to increases in wildcat deaths by vehicles, though it is unclear how significant this is. Changes in land management practices, such as intensification of agriculture, as well as increased use of snaring and lamping (gamekeepers or farmers using a search light on board a vehicle to detect feral cats in the dark, then shooting them) for predator control, may also have had an impact on the species.

    The end result was too few wildcats within a landscape containing too many domestic cats, and hybridisation was the consequence.

    Research states that limiting further hybridisation is vital.

    Greater public awareness about the importance of being a responsible cat owner is crucial and Saving Wildcats encourages pet owners to have their cats microchipped, neutered and vaccinated, to help save Scotland's wildcats and improve the health and wellbeing of their pets. 

    Read more about the importance of an evidence-based approach to Scottish wildcat conservation and the many years of scientific research our project has been informed by.

    Will Saving Wildcats cull feral domestic cats in the release site?

    No. The internationally accepted method of feral cat population control is known as Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return (TNVR), which is a safe, non-lethal method. The wildcat population has become increasingly threatened by interbreeding (also known as hybridisation) with un-neutered feral domestic cats. To address this, Saving Wildcats has begun a Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return (TNVR) programme for feral domestic cats in and around potential release sites.

    This is the method Saving Wildcats are employing across the release site to reduce the threat of hybridisation and disease-transmission to the released wildcats. TNVR is a humane and non-lethal method for controlling the expansion of the feral domestic cat population. This approach prevents hybridisation between Scotland’s wildcats and un-neutered domestic cats and reduces the risk of disease transmission which makes it an extremely important part of the work to restore wildcats to Scotland.

    For over two years we have been surveying and identifying feral domestic cats for TNVR with the support of public reporting, trail cameras and extensive on-the-ground outreach with local communities. Once a cat is identified and project officers are satisfied it is not owned and likely to be un-neutered, a humane and cat-specific trap is deployed with permission from the landowner, and once trapped, cats are moved to a veterinary facility, typically within the same day.

    Expert vets at our veterinary facility at the park do a final further check on cats for any signs of ownership before performing a full physical examination. Any minor conditions or injuries are treated, and the cat will be neutered, vaccinated, and given a spot-on parasite treatment. Afterwards the cats are monitored and once vets are happy it is recovering well, they will let the project officers know when it can be returned to its outdoor home.

    A small, healthy population of neutered and vaccinated feral cats may help to protect wildcats from hybridisation by maintaining a territory and keeping unneutered feral cats out. This process helps to ensure that the wildcat genetic pool is not diluted with domestic cat genes, preventing hybrid kittens (offspring off the two species) from being born.

    In situations where the health of a feral domestic cat is compromised, then they will be humanely euthanized by a qualified veterinarian.

    Are wildcats protected by law?

    Yes. The wildcat is protected by national and international legislation.

    Since 1977, Felis silvestris has been included in Appendix II of CITES. The wildcat is listed on Annex IV of the EU Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC and listed in Appendix II of the Bern Convention as a “strictly protected fauna species”.

    Wildcats are also listed as a protected species under Scots law through the Conservation (Natural Habitat, & c.) Regulations of 1994 (as amended), listed in Schedule 2 of these regulations as a “European Protected Species of animal”.

    On 18 March 1988, the wildcat was added to Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, receiving full protection. The species was also added to the revised UK Biodiversity Action Plan list of Priority Species and Habitats in 2007, and to the Scottish Biodiversity List (under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004), as a species of principal importance for biodiversity conservation.

    In 2007, NatureScot included the wildcat on the list of species for priority conservation action under the Species Action Framework, due to its decline in distribution and abundance. The wildcat also became a key priority species of the Cairngorms Local Biodiversity Action Plan.

    It is an offence to deliberately or recklessly:

    • capture, injure, kill or harass a wildcat
    • disturb a wildcat in a den or any other structure or place it uses for shelter or protection
    • disturb a wildcat while it is rearing, or otherwise caring for, its young
    • obstruct access to a den or other structure or place wildcats use for shelter or protection, or otherwise deny the animal use of that place
    • disturb a wildcat in a manner or in circumstances likely to significantly affect the local distribution or abundance of the species
    • disturb a wildcat in a manner or in circumstances likely to impair its ability to survive, breed or reproduce, or rear or otherwise care for its young

    It is also an offence to:

    • damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place of such an animal (whether or not deliberately or recklessly)
    • keep, transport, sell or exchange, or offer for sale or exchange any wildcat (or any part or derivative of one) obtained after 10 June 1994
    How do we work with landowners, estate managers and ground staff to ensure legal predator control does not negatively impact wildcats?

    Our field team work closely with local landowners, land managers and ground staff to ensure we can support each other in encouraging co-existence with wildcats.

    Best Practice guidance for land managers conducting predator control remains consistent with previous wildcat conservation projects, which is to use precautionary methods wherever wildcats may be present (i.e. methods that allow visual discrimination between wildcats and low-scoring hybrids or feral domestic cats). For more information, you can view the protocol.

    In March 2023, the Saving Wildcats team ran a workshop with individuals that undertake predator control within the Cairngorms National Park. Following this workshop, we have updated our identification guidance so that it is clearer and more concise. You can view this updated identification guidance here.

    This updated guidance is also used by others that carry out Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release programmes, to assist them in taking cautionary measures when neutering hybrid domestic feral cats.

  • Conservation breeding and the vital captive population

    What is a conservation breeding programme?

    Conservation breeding is the captive population management of a species that has a direct role in wildlife conservation. In other words, animals in human care that can help to save their species in the wild.

    When a wild population is regarded as non-viable, like that of wildcats in Scotland, it means that there are simply not enough animals for the population to be self-sustaining.

    For Scotland’s wildcat population to survive, more individuals need to be added – this can be from another wild population (known as translocation) or by releasing animals from the conservation breeding programme.

    Releasing animals from the breeding programme allows greater control of population sex ratios (how many males and females), age structure (getting the right balance of younger and older cats) and genetic diversity.

    Through careful population management, we can also preserve the Scottish gene pool as much as possible for future generations. This may involve bringing in wildcats from mainland Europe to boost the genetic diversity of the Scottish population. We are considering this as an option to help give our released wildcats the greatest possible chance of survival in the wild.

    Learn more about the UK conservation breeding programme

    Can the conservation breeding programme support other reintroduction projects?

    The conservation breeding programme for wildcats is managed by our lead partner Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, not our project team. The programme is a valuable management tool and plays a critical role in current conservation recovery efforts for the species in Scotland and has the potential to do the same for other projects operating to best practice guidance across Britain.

    Prior to any decisions being made for a wildcat to be removed from the conservation breeding programme into a reintroduction project, it would be expected that suitable extensive population management analysis (e.g. Population Viability Analysis) is carried out to ensure no long term detriment to the source (captive) population, the primary aim of is to be a long term insurance policy for the species. The releases itself would also need to conform to IUCN guidelines on conservation translocation and be supported by a partnership committed to a long-term goal for the project.

    Are all the cats in the breeding programme 'pure' wildcats?

    Data published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Evolutionary Applications in 2019 details the genetic results from the captive population. This shows that the levels of wildcat DNA found in wildcats in captivity in the UK are considerably higher than those found in wild-living cats in Scotland.

    In 2017, all breeding, captive wildcats were genetically assessed for levels of hybridisation. Only those that passed the minimum genetic threshold were used for further breeding, and most cats in the breeding programme score much higher than the minimum threshold (which is 75% - equivalent to a cat having one grandparent as a domestic cat).

    As of April 2022, there are 150 captive wildcats in the breeding programme. In contrast, only two wild-living wildcats from Scotland have passed this minimum threshold in the last five years.

    Has conservation breeding been successful for other recovery projects?

    Yes. Conservation breeding has been used in several successful endangered species recovery projects, including black footed ferrets and the California condor in North America, Arabian oryx in Oman, Saudi Arabia and Israel, golden lion tamarin in Brazil and European mink in Estonia, to name just a few.

    One of the most successful projects that continues today is the recovery of the Iberian lynx in Spain and Portugal. With conservation breeding centres playing a key role in their recovery, the Iberian lynx population has increased from under 100 animals in 2002 to over 650 animals in 2019. The lead partner for this Iberian lynx recovery project is now also a Saving Wildcats partner.

    How is the conservation breeding for release centre different from a zoo?

    The Saving Wildcats Conservation Breeding for Release Centre is a dedicated 'off-show' facility, where wildcats can live, breed and be prepared for life in the wild in large, natural enclosures away from human disturbances.

    Our breeding and pre-release enclosures will be situated in a remote, natural area of RZSS's Highland Wildlife Park, where no visitors are allowed. 

    What is the difference between the on-show and off-show enclosures?

    The on-show enclosures are those in the public area of RZSS's Highland Wildlife Park, where visitors can see the park's wildcats directly, watch them being fed, listen to wildcat keeper talks and explore the various education material and signage. The wildcats in these enclosures are still part of the UK captive breeding programme. 

    The Saving Wildcats off-show enclosures are not accessible to the public and are situated at the back of the park far away from the visitor areas. The area can however be seen from one of our viewpoints behind the markhor hill. These enclosures, and the wildcats in them, are managed in a way that supports our objective of preparing wildcats suitable for release by developing their natural behaviours and reducing their habituation to human presence.

  • Scottish Wildcat Action and other wildcat projects

    What happened to Scottish Wildcat Action?

    The Saving Wildcats project follows on from the work of the Scottish Wildcat Action partnership (2015 - 2020).

    Find out more about the history of wildcat conservation in Scotland

    Find out more about Scottish Wildcat Action

    Will work in the Scottish Wildcat Action Priority Areas end?

    No. The Priority Areas identified during the Scottish Wildcat Action project will still be important sites for continued research and engagement, as part of this next phase of wildcat conservation and recovery.

    An important element of Saving Wildcats is building on the successes of Scottish Wildcat Action and continuing valuable legacies. Many of the same methodologies, techniques and partnerships will be used.

    Any wildcats found in the Priority Areas that meet the required pelage and genetic criteria may be used to strengthen the gene pool of the release population.

    Read more about the importance of an evidence-based approach to Scottish wildcat conservation and the many years of scientific research our project has been informed by

    Does Saving Wildcats work with other wildcat projects and specialists?

    Yes. Project partners and staff from Saving Wildcats are represented on a number of global working groups and advisory groups in the field of conservation and reintroduction. The team have collaborated and consulted with other wildcat specialists and projects across Europe, including the Eurowildcat network.

    Saving Wildcats also has an international advisory group, which includes leading specialists in species conservation, as well as wildcat behaviour and population management.

    Our lead partner, RZSS, has managed the UK's captive wildcat population since 2015, working with many zoos, wildlife parks and private collections to ensure they have the potential to support conservation efforts.

    Is this the first time wildcats will be released in the UK?

    Yes, this project will involve the first planned conservation translocation of wildcats in Britain. It is designed to be in line with the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations.

    Saving Wildcats is the first wildcat release project in the UK that has secured long-term funding and has an action plan for high capacity release, as well as a detailed plan for threat control, with support from the national government.

    Discussions are ongoing with other wildcat stakeholders, within the UK, who are proposing wildcat releases in England and Wales. In principle, we support other wildcat recovery projects that follow a collaborative and best practice approach.

    Does Saving Wildcats support other wildcat conservation projects in Britain?

    Yes, while the Saving Wildcats project is not in a position to officially endorse any other wildcat conservation efforts, we are committed to sharing our approach and knowledge base with other conservation practitioners. Effective conservation projects require long-term commitment, collaboration between multiple partners and stakeholders and the use of an evidence-based approach underpinned by scientific data.

  • Outside our project area

    What will we do about any wildcats found outside the project area?

    Saving Wildcats will continue to undertake some scoping work outside of the project area, as well as staying engaged with volunteer groups within the Scottish Wildcat Action Priority Areas.

    In the event that potential wildcats are identified in areas outside of the release site, then action will be taken to collect scientific samples from these individuals to assess hybridisation levels, pelage score and disease status.

    If cats are found that pass the pelage and genetic criteria then the Saving Wildcats project team, in discussion with other key parties, will review the best course of action. In situations where these cats are isolated from other wildcats, or where threats remain, there will be potential for translocation to the release site.

    Wildcats occupy relatively large home ranges, and the individuals we release as part of the project will inevitably disperse outside of the initial release area. It is important to note that the chosen release area will be assessed to ensure it is large enough to support a viable population of wildcats.

    All released wildcats will be GPS collared. Their movements within and outside the release area will be closely monitored post-release, so that potential risks to the animals can be effectively mitigated. We will also be developing relationships with communities, pet owners, landowners and estates surrounding the release area, to make them aware of the project and to ask for their help in protecting and monitoring these animals as they move across the landscape.

    Wildcats and Clashindarroch forest

    While Clashindarroch forest is outside of the Saving Wildcats project area, we remain in close contact with our partners at Forestry and Land Scotland on any developments regarding potential wildcat sightings. We will be sure to assist them whenever appropriate, for example by conducting genetic analysis. 

    Read our more detailed response on ongoing press coverage of the Clashindarroch Forest.

  • Getting involved

    Will there be opportunities for volunteers?

    Yes. Volunteers have already supported Saving Wildcats by helping build pre-release enclosures, and process and analyse camera trap data.  

    We aim to develop further volunteer opportunities throughout the duration of the project, with the hope that volunteers will have opportunities to get involved with key conservation work, including camera trap surveys and the Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return of feral domestic cats. 

    There will also be opportunities for students or volunteers to assist at the Saving Wildcats conservation breeding for release centre, though these will be limited.   

    Sign up to receive Saving Wildcats project updatesand follow the partnership on social media to be the first to know about news, events and chances to get involved. 

    Do you have any employment opportunities?

    All of the project’s employment opportunities will be advertised by our lead partner, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. If there are no current adverts, then there are no current vacancies. You can sign up to receive alerts about all vacancies at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. 

    Are there other ways I can help support Saving Wildcats?

    Yes! You can support the team’s efforts by tagging camera trap images from home, donating directly to our cats and through organising your own fundraising challenge. Please look at how you can help to support the Saving Wildcats project from wherever you are in the world.