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Monday, July 22, 2024

Saving Wildcats Project Prepare for Third Breeding Season Ahead of Valentine’s Day 

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16 wildcats have been paired up for the third consecutive breeding season in the Saving Wildcats conservation breeding for release centre, off-show at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s (RZSS) Highland Wildlife Park.  

Led by wildlife conservation charity RZSS, in collaboration with NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS), The Cairngorms National Park Authority, Norden’s Ark and Consejería de Sostenibilidad, Medio Ambiente y Economía Azul de la Junta de Andalucía, the Saving Wildcats partnership project is working to restore Scotland’s critically endangered wildcat population by breeding and releasing them into the wild.

In June 2023, 19 wildcats were released into the Cairngorms Connect landscape within the Cairngorms National Park marking a historic milestone for the project.  

David Barclay, Saving Wildcats conservation manager, said:

“It is fantastic to be getting ready for our third breeding season in the centre, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

“16 cats are paired and we are already seeing encouraging mating behaviours.

“This year we have created two new breeding pairs so they are different from previous years, with the aim of increasing the genetic variation of the kittens.

“This is vital as it will hopefully serve to eventually increase the genetic diversity of the newly established wild population in the Cairngorms National Park, once these wildcats are released.  

“The birth of kittens in the centre highlights another critical milestone for our expert keeper team whilst demonstrating how integral zoos are in restoring many threatened species.

“Without a carefully managed captive breeding population, we would not have been able to conduct the first ever releases of wildcats into Britain last year. 

“We have years of specialist knowledge and partner expertise allowing us to be able to breed wildcats successfully.

“Any kittens born at the centre are another step towards restoring a self-sustaining population in the Cairngorms National Park.

“We hope any kittens born this year will be released into the wild in 2025.” 

Wildcats born in the off-show conservation breeding centre in 2023 are now in pre-release enclosures designed to support natural development and reduce exposure to disturbance, preparing them for a challenging life in the wild.

All going well, they will be eligible for release this summer.  

Estelle Morgan, Saving Wildcats senior keeper, said:

“Managing the wildcats from their birth until their eventual release into the wild is incredibly rewarding.

“We get to see the wildcats grow and help them prepare for the challenges of life in the wild, using tools which minimise disturbance, to give them the best possible chances of survival.”  

Releases are being conducted with the support of Cairngorms Connect. 

The project is funded with the contribution of the LIFE Programme of the European Union and the generous support of the Scottish Government, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the National Trust for Scotland, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, The European Nature Trust, players of People’s Postcode Lottery, and Rewilding Europe’s European Wildlife Comeback Fund. 

Within the lifespan of the project, it is envisioned that approximately 20 cats will also be released in 2024 and 2025.

The cats bred for release are not available for public viewing to help them prepare for life in the wild.  

Regular news from the project will be shared in the Saving Wildcats newsletter.

Those wishing to support a wildcat family cansponsor a parent in the breeding centre

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