Latest News - Results from our largest ever trail camera survey in the Morvern Wildcat Priority Area
Results from our largest ever trail camera survey in the Morvern Wildcat Priority Area
Caption: This is Tiger (above), one of Morvern’s wildcats we caught on camera. He is already a well kent face in the area and has been seen by local residents on numerous occasions.
Earlier this year we completed the largest ever trail camera survey of the Morvern Wildcat Priority Area. This was our most challenging survey to date given that Morvern is substantially larger than the other priority areas in north-east of Scotland.
There are far fewer roads and some very remote and inaccessible locations, difficult and rough terrain, wild wet and windy west-coast weather. We also have a relatively small pool of potential volunteers.
Previous surveys have only covered small areas of Morvern, so to get the best picture of the status of wildcats and feral domestic cats we needed to cover as much suitable habitat on the peninsula as possible.
The survey and subsequent TNVR would not have been possible without the help and co-operation of so many, including landowners, managers, ground staff and the tireless work of several local contractors and volunteers. Surveyors braved the dark days and long hikes to operate as many camera-traps as possible for 60 days, between December 2016 and March 2017.
In total, we deployed 142 camera traps over the entire peninsula (the map above details camera trap locations). Every camera had to be checked and re-baited every two weeks and the SD cards swapped over. The cameras were focused on the forested/coastal areas as the more exposed higher ground becomes very wet and offers unsuitable habitat for wildcats over winter. There were also two estates which did not give us permission for the use of cameras on their land.
It might seem like the results of the survey have been a long-time coming, but we collected such a vast amount of data that even with the help of the contractors, it has taken many months to sort and catalogue all the cat images.
We recorded a total of 115,000 camera trap photos illustrating the diversity of all Morvern wildlife. We saw everything from red deer, pine martin, foxes and otters to Highland cows, barn owls, feral goats and thousands of wood mice.
Of those images 5,000 were of cats. I have only just finished sorting, identifying, and pelage scoring all the cat pictures, and the results are as follows:
A total of 19 individual cats were detected and identified through camera-trap images during the survey period. Almost all of these cats were found in the same area of Morvern - the forested coastal area in the south-west of the peninsula, between the main population settlements of Lochaline and Drimnin.
Of those 19 cats, three individuals could be classified as ‘wildcat’ based on their pelage scores of 17/21 and above. You can learn more about the pelage scoring system here. Although it was good news to find some cats that score over this threshold, with our extensive camera trap coverage, we had hoped to find more. The low number of potential wildcats, in what should be one of their final strongholds, is worrying indicator of just how bad the situation is on the ground for Scotland’s wildcats.
A further two possible wildcats were seen by reliable observers during the survey period, but were not found on camera. Six cats were scored as ‘probable low-scoring hybrids’ (wildcat obviously crossed with domestic cat) - all of these were known to be feral, i.e. not owned by anyone and living wild.
Of the remaining ten domestic cats, four were feral/stray cats being fed by someone, two were feral cats, three were known pet cats, and the remaining one was an unknown pet or feral cat.
Caption: Vet Alice Bacon on loan from Fraser and Fraser Vets (Dingwall) and Vet Nurse Helen Wells removing ticks from a large male feral cat prior to his neuter and return
Due to the number of feral cats found during the survey and their close proximity to wildcats, we thought it necessary to do some TNVR (Trap Neuter Vaccinate and Return) work as soon as possible to prevent further cross-breeding this spring.
TNVR is challenging on Morvern, because there is no veterinary clinic on the peninsula to conduct the neutering operations. We set up a small field clinic in a summer house and invited a vet and vet nurse to come and help for a few days in late February. Having set up some cage traps and pre-baited these in advance, we targeted some of the known feral cats from the survey and responded to some local requests for feral cat neutering.
Caption: Project Officer Keri Langridge preparing to deploy cage traps for TNVR at Ardtornish Estate
We trapped feral cats over four nights at Ardtornish, Killundine, and Kingairloch Estates, and invited any local residents to bring in pet cats for neutering, vaccination, or micro-chipping.
We successfully neutered/vaccinated and returned five feral cats, one pet cat, and one stray cat. One feral cat was euthanized by the vet on welfare grounds as it was found to be in very poor health.
Caption: Project Officer Keri Langridge (second from right) with the TNVR Field Cat Clinic team in Morvern.
All TNVR cats are released in the same location they were trapped and we continue to monitor them with camera traps for some time after to ensure their wellbeing.
These cats no longer present any threat to wildcats. There are still unneutered feral and hybrid cats left to find and we hope to repeat the TNVR clinic again this winter.
The picture below shows 'Marble' the cat released by Keri a few weeks after her operation, stealing the bait at one of our camera trap sights. It is clear from the photo that her operation site is healing well and you can see the flat ear-tip on her left ear which identifies her as a TNVR’d cat and will prevent her from being unnecessarily trapped again in the future.
Below is one of our Morvern wildcats, Skeletor. Our cameras were baited with frozen quail, salmon oil and dried valerian root (which acts like a very strong cat nip) to coax the cats in.
And below is camera trap video of another of Morvern’s wildcats. He is appropriately named Stonker because he is a beauty.
Keri is a research scientist with PhD in Animal Behaviour. She is our Monitoring Officer & also responsible for Northern Strathspey & Morvern Priority Areas. Keri has extensive experience working as an ecological consultant in the Highlands and has also worked as Education Officer for Cats Protection.