Scottish wildcat faces extinction within months13/09/2012 16:34:41 Days before Scottish Natural Heritage begin formulating their action plan for the Scottish wildcat, conservationists warn that numbers may have slumped to 35 individuals and that significant policy change is essential.
2000 records assessed
Threatened by hybridisation
1% of cats are true wildcats
"However you juggle the figures it's hard to find anything positive," comments SWA chairman Steve Piper, "if you ignore the eye witness sightings because they're unreliable the numbers get even worse, if you hypothesise that wildcats avoid roads they only pick up a little, even if you decide the population of hybrids is larger you have to multiply it to impossible levels to get to the commonly quoted figure of 400 wildcats. The overwhelming evidence is that the wildcat is going to be extinct within months, anything else is blind hope."
Misleading information from Cairngorms
"We've asked the leading experts in identifying wildcats to double check opinions of our team and no one thought those animals were true wildcats. Apparently the Cairngorms project worked to a ‘relaxed' criteria, in other words, if a hybrid looked close to a wildcat, they were calling it a wildcat; the much repeated phrase ‘expert verified pure-bred wildcat' used in the press was exceptionally misleading."
Scottish Natural Heritage have recently announced a series of meetings to formulate a national conservation action plan for the Scottish wildcat, listed by them as a priority species. Hopes have also been raised by the near completion of a genetic test to identify true wildcats; however the geneticist in charge of that project, Dr Paul O'Donoghue at the University of Chester, has concerns;
"The real issue is stopping hybridisation, we can only do that accurately with a genetic test which works off of blood samples, wildcats have to be live trapped and sampled; no trapping, no genetics, no end to hybridisation. We've worked with the SWA and many of the experts in the scientific community to create an action plan combining such live trapping with the trapping and neutering of feral and hybrid cats and are waiting for our licence to be approved by SNH. No meaningful conservation is happening without it."
Piper echoes his opinions; "The licencing to trap wildcats is a big issue for their conservation, without it they will go extinct, taking photos of wildcats doesn't stop them mating with feral cats. Many exceptional researchers and conservationists have proposed work before us and we've proposed variations of the same action plan three times in the last year but no progress, it's coming up on twenty years since a trapping licence was issued and that's really holding things back.
Sutherland and Caithness
"SNH have put in less than 0.1% of their budget to wildcats over the last eight years so maybe it's their turn to get some attention, I hope so. It's wholly unacceptable to lose a creature unique to Scotland when there is overwhelming public support, plenty of money within the current budgets for such things and a very talented community of scientists who have spent nearly a decade proposing solutions, it's time they were allowed to get on with it."
The Scottish Wildcat Association is the only charity dedicated to the conservation of the Scottish wildcat. Promoting public awareness and education since 2007 the organisation has supported improvements in the captive breeding program, collated eye witness sightings and photographs of wildcats for use by conservationists and authored and trialled a comprehensive action plan combining genetic testing, captive breeding and feral cat neutering in the West Highlands.