My name is Heather, a good ol’ Scottish name – except I’m not Scottish; I’m from Yorkshire, which has to be the next best thing! I live in beautiful Strathspey and have a great view from my front window onto the Cairngorm mountain range. As I work from home I feel I am in a good position to volunteer with Scottish Wildcat Action. I started volunteering in 2016 and look after a few cameras out in the woods and I am also involved in the Trap Neuter Vaccinate Return programme.
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I started volunteering for Scottish Wildcat Action in September and, after thorough training, was let loose with a camera. I set it up at the fence at the back of our house as I had been aware that there were at least 3 suspected feral cats that had been passing through the garden on a regular basis. If they didn’t belong to anyone I wanted to catch them and take them to a vet for neutering and vaccination as part of Scottish Wildcat Action’s Trap Neuter Vaccinate Return programme. Two of these were large kittens / young cats when first seen. After getting some pictures, I visited neighbours and farms in the local area to make sure they weren’t owned cats, and my local wildcat project officer, Hebe, came out to help me set up a cage trap. The three cats have continued to show up but not on a regular basis. They have been named to distiguish between them and as a musical trend has already been set in the naming of cats, they have been called Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens and Chuck Berry!
Photo of "Bob Dylan"
The idea is simple – bait the trap; set the trap and hey presto, you have your target cat! Well, not quite! Cats are by nature cautious and pretty smart. Instead of a cautious cat I was visited by a reckless rodent on numerous occasions that removed my bait morsel by tiny morsel. I had to outsmart the mouse before I could catch a cat. Eventually I hit upon using frozen kipper cut into small pieces. While the fish is frozen it’s possible to make a hole in it and then thread the hole with a length of string. By hanging the kipper from the top of the trap, I have been able to outwit the mouse but I am yet to catch a cat!
Photo "Cat Stevens"
Well, this isn’t quite true. I did trap Cat Stevens. He was taken to the vet in Grantown-on-Spey and this is when it transpired that his left ear had been tipped by a previous vet in order to show he was a feral that had previously been caught and neutered. This hadn't been obvious on the photos. I returned him to his territory and released him. This outcome was a bit deflating as I hadn’t managed to catch a ‘useful’ cat. However, at least it was a feral cat and the trap had worked, so we can take heart from that. The camera watching the trap is indicating that Bob D. and Chuck Berry are still around but so far have managed to evade capture.
Photo "Chuck Berry"
It’s really important to get these feral cats to a vet before they can breed with or pass disease to one of the local wildcats.
At weekends the vet is not available so the trap door is padlocked open and the trap is left baited. This last weekend the camera took a stunning sequence of photos of Bob D. going deep into the trap, taking the kipper, licking his lips and then sauntering off! Although this is now mid-week and the kipper has been available since Sunday evening there have been no feline visitors, so far. The trials and tribulations of being a TNVR volunteer are many but we don’t give up easily – I’ll let you all know when (not if) I do manage to catch Bob D. or Chuck Berry!
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.
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