Under the watchful eye of experienced mum Betidh, two rare Scottish wildcat kittens can now be seen playing outside and exploring their enclosure at the Highland Wildlife Park, Kingussie.
The two female kittens, Vaa and Gynack, were born on 11 April 2014 and are the second successful litter from this adult pair - the annual births of wildcats is a real testament to the quality of the husbandry regime at the Park.
While there is currently debate over the size of the remaining population of Scottish wildcats, with no reliable population estimates, experts agree that the wildcat is one of the UK's most endangered mammals. Coupled with an elusive nature, Scottish wildcats are extremely difficult to spot in their natural habitat. At Highland Wildlife Park, visitors are offered a rare opportunity to see the native animal up close and learn more about the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland's (RZSS) conservation efforts to save the animal from extinction. The biggest threat to the Scottish wildcat is hybridisation with feral domestic cats and responsible pet cat ownership will be a key element in conserving the wildcat.
Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections at the Highland Wildlife Park, says:
"The appearance of these wildcat kittens is the latest such event in the Wildlife Park's long history of breeding the species. Now, with the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan (SWCAP) in place, the contribution that these little chaps may make in the future to their species' survival will hopefully be more impactful. The Highland Wildlife Park is playing a significant role in a high priority proactive breeding programme which aims to create a reservoir of genetically pure wildcats to be re-released in the future."
The RZSS's WildGenes laboratory is also carrying out genetic testing on wildcats to determine the extent of hybridisation. By 2019, the Plan aims to have secured five stable wildcat populations in the wild; have a better understanding of wildcat distribution and genetics; created greater local awareness of the threats posed by feral cats and the importance of responsible pet ownership; reduced the risk of accidental persecution of wildcats by landowners; and finally to have a better understanding of facts that affect wildcat numbers and how land management can benefit population viability.
Vaa and Gynack were, like all Scottish wildcats born into the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland's collection, named after lochs.
Even More Puuurr-fect Scottish Wildcat Kittens
Date: Thursday 7 August 2014
Time: 9:30 am
Where: Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig, Kingussie, Inverness-shire PH21 1NL
(Please arrive by the service road)
Photographers are invited to come photograph Betidh and her kittens at the Scottish wildcat enclosure as they enjoy some enrichment. Due to their shy nature, a little patience may be required.
Notes to editors
Betidh was born at the Park on 26th July 2006. Hamish was born on 30th April 2004 and arrived at the Park on 7th December 2007. The pair have been together since early summer 2013. The Park is also home another male wildcat, Zak, who was born in the wild but abandoned by his mother and arrived at the Park on 16th November 2012.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland was a key partner in the three year Cairngorm Wildcat Project, which took place in the Cairngorms National Park. Findings from this project have been instrumental in the development of the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan, which is spearheaded by Scottish Natural Heritage and owned by the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Group. More information about efforts to save the species, including links to the current Conservation Action Plan, in which RZSS is playing a key role, can be found at http://www.highlandtiger.com/index.asp
While Scottish wildcats might look very similar to domestic cats at first glance, there are several key differences: they have a wide, flat head, a bushy tail with dark rings and a distinctly striped coat. Also, they are more closely related to the European wildcat whereas domestic cats originate from the Middle East.
Unlike the domestic cat, the wildcat is a seasonal breeder. Mating occurs during February and 2-6 kittens are born approximately 68 days later. The family breaks up after about 5 months, when the young leave to establish their own home range.
The Scottish wildcat is now fully protected by law and is recognised as a separate subspecies,Felis silvestris grampia, confined to the Central and Northern Highlands of mainland Scotland. Their preferred habitat is upland forest with young trees, moorland, scrub and hill ground where they can lie up during the day in a den among rocky cairns, old fox earths, badger setts, or among tree roots. The wildcat is a useful predator of pests such as rabbits and rodents and will also eat birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects and may scavenge fresh road casualties.
The Highland Wildlife Park is owned by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), a registered charity, charity no SC004064. For further information on all our conservation projects and events, please visit our websites www.highlandwildlifepark.org
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The Highland Wildlife Park specialises in Scottish species, past and present, and other cold weather adapted animals from around the world.
In June 2012 the Highland Wildlife Park celebrated its 40th anniversary. Opened in 1972, the Park covers over 200 acres and is located within the Cairngorms National Park.
The Highland Wildlife Park is a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA). BIAZA represents its member collections and promotes the values of good zoos and aquariums. For further information please telephone 020 7449 6351.
For further information please contact:
Amanda Dunbar, PR Coordinator at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland on 0131 314 0383 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Rachel Goddard, PR Manager at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland on 0131 314 0312 or email@example.com