When I took on the job of wildcat project officer for Scottish Wildcat Action, I was under no illusions that I’d be seeing them every day. There may be lots of feral cats and hybrids out there, but the Scottish wildcat is, after all, one of our rarest mammals and elusive by nature to boot. I also knew the job would be very seasonal: unlike many species, the best fieldwork season for wildcats is winter, so autumn should be a quiet time, right? But no, every day is packed full.
Today, I’ve spent a couple of hours this morning answering emails from fantastic people who’ve gotten in touch to offer their help. They are keen to volunteer to help protect our precious wildcats. I match each person with their nearest wildcat priority area and an aspect of our varied work that suits their skills and interests. It’s a bit like matchmaking!
We’ve had so many people come forward recently to get involved, which is wonderful, but there are still some places where we need more help, particularly for the winter survey season, so do get in touch if you’d like to join in the action. We have over 400 cameras going up by the end of December so there's lots to do.
Next, it’s a quick chat on the phone with a local farmer who has seen a wildcat. How exciting! This chap is very experienced and he is sure it was ‘huge wildcat male’, but without a photo or hair sample to test, we can’t be 100% certain. I discuss dropping him off a trail camera to use for a couple of months to see if we can get a picture. Fingers crossed!
Then, it’s checking some photos sent to us by an Aberdeenshire family of their pet cat who they think may be a wildcat hybrid after checking out the ID guide on our website. They’ve helpfully sent us a few photos of a gorgeous cat who looks like a real character, and does indeed have some wildcat characteristics in coat markings and may well be a hybrid. It turns out he was adopted from a local farm at age 5 weeks some years ago so it is quite possible a wildcat was his father. This is actually quite useful for us to know as it is a good clue as to the whereabouts of their possible wildcat parents.
Just before lunch, it’s time to get on the road and off to meet more of our lovely volunteers out on site.
I'm training them in using the same trail camera technology to follow up other cat sightings: one of a possible wildcat, and one of a probable feral cat which we’d like to trap, neuter and vaccinate. I love the drives through my two wildcat priority areas, Strathbogie and Strathavon. The scenery is stunning and some of Scotland’s finest. The autumn colours are just starting to turn the trees and the heather hills are still tinged purple. Wonderful!
Finally, just as I am turning for home, the call I’ve been waiting for comes in: local volunteers have managed to trap a feral tom cat on a local farm that also has wildcats on its margins. I’m off to pick him up and do a quick assessment. He seems healthy, though very feisty, so it’s off to the vet where he will stay overnight until he can have his vaccination and neutering surgery tomorrow. This means he can’t be a threat to the health or genetic integrity of local wildcats. All being well, I’ll be releasing him the next day back at the same place. What a good excuse to get out into the beautiful autumn hills again, all in aid of saving our wildcats.
Emma is organising a number of Volunteer Days in Strathbogie and Strathavon:
24th October (Huntly & Tomintoul)
29th October (Huntly)
5th November (Glenlivet)
For more details please visit our facebook page www.facebook.com/saveourwildcats
(All images of cats above are from camera traps in the Strathbogie area)