Louise is the Staff Naturalist at Aigas Field Centre in the Scottish Highlands, one of the partners involved in Scottish Wildcat Action. She graduated in 2013 with a BSc in Environmental Resource Management and has previously worked in Cape Verde, on a Loggerhead Turtle Conservation project and for the RSPB.
Latest News - Female Scottish wildcat moves house
Finally, in October, after 10 months of building and preparation, we moved our female into her new enclosure. It has been a long job getting it shipshape for the move but we wanted to make sure everything was in place and, obviously, secure before she moved in. With walkways, high platforms, rock piles, trees and natural shrub cover, of heather and blueberry, we are hoping she will like it.
Here at Aigas Field Centre, just west of Inverness, we have been breeding Scottish wildcats since 2011 and we are now part of the Scottish Wildcat Action conservation breeding programme led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. We have two males out on loan to the Highland Wildlife Park and Chester Zoo, both of whom fathered kittens in 2016. We then have a male and female at Aigas that I, the Staff Naturalist, am responsible for. Our female’s partnership with Hamish, an 11 year old male was unsuccessful so we have shaken things up and, just before Christmas, have seen the addition of two new wildcats. What a great Christmas present!
The first, a young male, called Coll, is now paired with our female. He is one of last year’s young and we are hoping that he and our female will mate successfully this coming year. The signs so far are encouraging!
Photo: Coll, new male wildcat at Aigas
When Coll arrived, we released him into the opposite side to our female to give him time to settle in before meeting her. On opening the box, he dashed for freedom and scaled the 12 foot mesh fence before crawling onto a platform where he could eye us with suspicion from his vantage point. He did that for a few days before realising that I wasn’t so bad and I brought food to him but he still watches my every move.
He and the female were introduced a few days after he arrived, she seemed more interested in exploring the other side of the enclosure rather than interacting with Coll. Interestingly, she has become bolder since Coll has been there, coming to investigate what food I have for them and giving me a half-hearted hiss. I’m taking this as a good sign that she feels more relaxed now she has a man about to protect her and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they will have a blossoming romance!
Photo: Tanna arriving at her brand new enclosure
Secondly, we welcome a new female, Tanna, who has been paired with Hamish. She is slightly older, at nine years old, but her genetics are very good so we are keeping our fingers crossed for a successful mating between them.
She was allowed to settle into her enclosure for a few days before we introduced her to Hamish. On the day of their meeting, she had positioned herself as high as she could go, squeezing herself onto a platform, with her face turned away from us.
Photo: Tanna, the new female Scottish wildcat
I went to set the trap for Hamish, down in his enclosure about 100 metres away, and true to form the devil managed to pick the bait, not triggering the trap! Three goes and a strategically placed chick, I finally had him. Wildcats can hiss and do this almighty spit, it is then you realise quite how wild they can be.. But, with a sheet simply placed over him, he was very calm and didn’t make a sound whilst being carried up to meet Tanna. He’s a hefty boy at over 6kg, taking two of us, plus a couple of stops to catch our breath, 10 minutes to walk him up the 100 metres to his new home.
As we opened the trap for Hamish to come out, he crawled out slowly, low to the ground, his tail all poofy, sniffing everything and exploring the boundaries. Still Tanna sat high as possible, eyeing up Hamish prowling below her. Unfortunately, Hamish didn’t seem to clock Tanna until he started climbing up the walkways, stopping on a platform opposite her. It was amusing watching him trying to work out how to get to her and it took some time! He made some precarious movements over a couple of leafy branches and along a narrow birch pole, ending up going back to his original spot and meowing at her.
Photo: Hamish, an 11 year old male wildcat
Three weeks on and they seem to be getting along nicely. Tanna’sconfidence is growing and the enclosure they have has doubled in size, to give them more room to move around, more places to hide and more places for me to hide food for enrichment.
Over the next few weeks, I will be looking and listening for signs of mating, some of which I have already noticed; meowing and caterwauling, scent-marking by the boys, which has started to increase, and tufts of fur on the ground indicating copulation. I will also put in some stealth cameras with the hope I can catch them in action.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a successful year ahead for the captive wildcat population because they are the future of the survival of this charismatic feline.
Scottish Wildcat Action is the first national project to save the highly endangered Scottish wildcat from extinction. It is a partnership involving over 20 organisations, including, Scottish Natural Heritage, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), Cairngorms National Park Authority, Forestry Commission Scotland, National Museums Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. It is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and Scottish Government, as well as its partners.
This content was made possible by our Partners & Funders at Aigas Field Centre
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