Saving Wildcats animal management team awarded gold in the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria (BIAZA) awards

The Saving Wildcats animal management team were awarded gold in the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria (BIAZA) animal husbandry, care and breeding award earlier this month.

The award recognises innovative projects which have made an important contribution to the survival, well-being, and the breeding of a species.

Saving Wildcats aims to restore wildcats to Scotland by breeding them for release, releasing approximately 60 wildcats into the wild over the course of three years. An integral part of this project is the breeding, animal husbandry and care of wildcats in the project’s off-show conservation breeding for release centre (CBRC), based at Highland Wildlife Park.

In 2023, the project was granted a translocation license after extensive ecological surveys determining the suitability of a release site and released 19 wildcats from the CBRC into the Cairngorms National Park.

This major milestone was only achieved due to the dedication and expertise of the Saving Wildcats ex-situ team, comprised of an ex-situ conservation manager, four wildcat keepers, two veterinarians and a veterinary nurse who care for the wildcats in the bespoke centre, the first of its kind to be built in the UK.

As coordinator of the conservation breeding programme for wildcats in the UK and lead partner in Saving Wildcats, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) has been involved in wildcat breeding for several decades.

The CBRC is a culmination of knowledge building and sharing with other captive holders across BIAZA, and decades of best-practice in line with BIAZA guidelines, as well as extensive consultations with similar carnivore restoration projects across the globe.

The project has experienced significant breeding success, welcoming 22 kittens in 2023, and 13 kittens in 2023, underpinning the success of the UK’s first wildcat conservation translocation, a BIAZA first. All these wildcats have been prepared for a challenging life in the wild in the CBRC’s breeding enclosures, and later in pre-release enclosures, carefully built and designed with the welfare of the wildcats in mind. The enclosures are large, complex, and natural and provide the wildcats with plenty of opportunities to develop their innate behaviours, allowing the significant breeding success that the project has experienced.

We are delighted to have been recognised for our hard work and efforts, so far, to restore the Highland tiger in Scotland.

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