Wildwood is delighted to announce that our two female wildcat kittens have now gone on public display. The precious youngsters are exciting news for the conservation charity which works to save Britain's most threatened species.
The first of the two kittens, named Isla, was born at Wildwood and is now 14 weeks old. After being hand-reared by the Wildwood team from a newborn, she is surprisingly friendly towards humans, despite the species being famously impossible to tame.
The second kitten is around 20 weeks old, and has come to Wildwood from the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey. Unlike Isla, she was reared by her mother and so displays more typical wildcat behaviour. Experts at Wildwood expect that once the two kittens are introduced, Isla will quickly forget her tame ways and become a truly wild wildcat, as nature intended.
The wildcat, Britain's rarest mammal, is critically endangered with less than 400 individuals appearing to remain in the wild the UK and barely a handful in the captive breeding population. Without urgent action scientists warn that they could become extinct in less than 10 years.
Wildcats have been pushed to the verge of extinction by persecution, habitat loss and inter-breeding (hybridisation) with domestic cats which is fast reducing the number of pure-bred animals in the wild.
The new kittens at Wildwood will become part of a UK wide effort to prevent wildcats becoming extinct by boosting the UK's increasingly important captive pure-bred population which could prove to be the species' only hope for survival.
Wildwood's wildcat keeper, Sally Barnes said:
"It been such a privilege to raise this precious wildcat kitten, to nurse such an amazing animal and have the honour to protect such a rare creature has been the high point of my career. However, wildcats can never be tamed so we are now taking a more hands-off approach to allow the kittens to develop into true wildcats."
Peter Smith Wildwood Trust's Chief Executive said:
"Wildwood Trust has been working in collaboration with scientists and wildlife experts to help understand the problems of wildcat extinction and have been campaigning for their protection. Working with geneticist Dr Paul O'Donoghue of The University of Chester, Wildwood has been assisting in developing a genetic test to identify pure bred wildcats."
"If we are to rescue wildcats in the wild we must make a radical shift in land use in our wilderness and upland areas. Overgrazing by sheep and deer are the real cause of the loss of the Caledonian forest that is the main reason behind the wildcats' demise. A radical shift in abandoning subsidies to agriculture, shifting taxation onto land values and a change to land ownership laws are desperately needed if we are to protect these animals. One of the best things we can do to protect wildcats is to re-introduce Lynx back to the UK, lynx will disperse the unnaturally high concentrations of deer held by shooting estates in Scotland and allow the natural regeneration of the Caledonian forest."
The wildcats can be photographed or filmed by professional crews by prior arrangement, more stills or broadcast quality Video can be provided on request.
For more information Contact Fiona Paterson or Peter Smith
Tel: 01227 712 111
Registered charity no 1093702
Registered charity no 1093702
Wildcat: Felis silvestris
Grey/brown fur with dark stripes; thick tail, with blunt tip.
Head/body length: average about 56cm; tail about 29cm.
Weight: kittens 100-160g at birth; adult males average 5kg; females 4kg.
Wildcats are confined to Scotland, north of Glasgow and Edinburgh, but are absent from the Scottish Islands. They prefer areas with varied habitats on the edge of moorland, with pasture, scrub and forests. High mountains, where prey is scarce, and intensively farmed lowland regions are avoided. In winter, bad weather drives wildcats from mountain and moor into more sheltered wooded valleys.
Wildcats are shy and wary animals active at night, mainly around dawn and dusk. Rabbits, hares and small mammals are their principal prey, but quite large birds and animals freshly killed on the roads may also be taken. They sometimes store, or cache, uneaten prey by hiding it under vegetation. During the day, and in periods of heavy rain and snow, wildcats lie up in dens located amongst boulders and rocky cairns, or in old fox earths, badgers setts, peat hags, or tree roots.
Wildcats are solitary and territorial, living at a low population density; there may be one cat to three square kilometres in good habitats but only one cat to 10 square kilometres in less favourable areas. Urine sprayed on boulders and tree trunks and droppings deposited in prominent places, are used by wildcats to mark their territories.
Mating generally takes place in February and litters of 2-6 kittens are born in May. Though litters may be born until August, wildcats produce only one litter a year. Kittens are weaned at 12 weeks and stay with their mother until about five months old. Although wildcats may live 10-12 years in the wild, most seem to die at an early age.
Wildcats used to be found throughout mainland Britain (they have never occurred in Ireland) but, due to persecution and clearance of wooded land, have declined over several centuries. They disappeared from southern England in the 16th Century and the last one recorded from northern England was shot in 1849. Wildcats almost became extinct in Britain in the early years of this century but, following reduced persecution at the time of the First World War, and helped by more forestry plantations, they recolonised parts of Scotland. However, this recovery now seems to have slowed down. The urbanised habitat of the central lowlands of Scotland may present a barrier to further dispersal. A recent survey failed to find any evidence of wildcats south of the industrial belt of Scotland, so that reports of wildcats further south probably refer to domestic cats gone wild.
Although increasing afforestation helped the spread of wildcats, as forest plantations mature they become less suitable for the small mammals on which wildcats prey. Forestry management to encourage wildcats should therefore aim to diversify the age of plantations.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981 and 1988) now gives strict legal protection to wildcats and their dens; it is an offence to take or kill one except under licence. Despite this protection, illegal trapping and shooting are still major causes of death of wildcats. Others die in road traffic accidents and wildcats are still at risk from illegal poisoning.
Inter-breeding with domestic cats gone wild (known as feral cats) could pose an insidious threat to the wildcats' survival in Britain by changing the species' genetic identity. Wildcats are also at risk from diseases of domestic cats such as feline leukaemia.
Where can I see a wildcat?
Because they are so shy and nocturnal, wildcats are very difficult to see in the wild.
If wildcats have inter-bred with domestic cats, are there any real wildcats left in Scotland?
Although hybrid cats are widely distributed in certain areas of Scotland, there still seem to be wildcats that show little if any signs of inter-breeding with domestic cats.
Are there any wildcats in England or Wales?
No, wildcats are confined to central and northern Scotland. However, domestic cats that live independently of humans in the wild, do occur throughout Britain. These are not wildcats and never will become wildcats.