Latest News - Our project officers never poo poo reports of cat scat

Our project officers never poo poo reports of cat scat

One thing I've learned is never ignore a poo poo, especially when it comes to helping protect our Scottish wildcats from extinction.

I recently received another email with pictures the sender is hoping is wildcat poo. And of course with that email I receive the lovely offer having said poo sent to me in the post! Ah, the delights of my job as a Wildcat Project Officer.

Actually poo, or ‘scat’ as we call it in the wildlife world, is a really important clue and put together with other field signs, can be really useful when you are tracking wildcats. I get these kinds of questions so often I thought I’d write this handy guide to identifying cat signs. 

Scats– these ones below have been verified as wildcat from mitochondrial DNA

(photos courtesy of WildCRU)

Wildcats seem to be more inclined to leave their scats as scent territory markers than pet cats who tend to bury their waste. You can find them on tracks, stumps and other features in woodland, though they are not common. They are not easy to distinguish from similar-sized mammals (it’s really a process of elimination) and feral cat and wildcat scat is almost identical unfortunately.If we find a scat we suspect could be from a wildcat, we usually try and confirm this by placing a trail camera nearby.

Clue 1: shape. Is it wee balls (rodents, deer etc) or loose blobs/runny (badger, pine marten at some times of year). If it is sausage shaped, does it have very tight twists between the links and curls at the end (most likely pine marten or stoat). Cat scat is sausage shaped but with only slight twistsand sometimes looks braided.

Clue 2: size. Is it wider than your thumb (large dog, fox or some badgers) or smaller than your pinkie finger (hedgehog, weasel, stoat) Cat scat tends to be about finger width.

Clue 3: contents. Is the scat full of vegetable matter, grass or berry or cherry stones (pine marten or badger)  or is it full of hair, small bones, and feather quills (fox or cat).Cat scats do sometimes contain a few strands of vegetation.

Clue 4: smell. If it is a fox scat, it will have a very distinctive musky strong odour, if it’s an otter spraint it will have a sweet ‘jasmine’ smell, and if it’s a cat scat it will smell like cat! In his book ‘Mammal Detective’, the late Rob Strachan described wildcat scat smell as “foul: unpleasant, sweet, acrid, hint of musk”, so you can see that ‘cat smell’ isn’t easy to define!

So if you have found cat tracks or scat, you will know there is a feline around, but what type is the next question: wildcat or domestic cat? It's really helpful if you can report any sightings of field signs to us, using the Mammal Tracker app on your smartphone or via our website. While we won’t be able to conclusively verify reports of field signs, it can help direct our monitoring work. Thanks for your support!

Tracks

First clue: number of toes. Dogs, cats and their relatives ( like foxes) have four toes, most other mammals (mustelids like badger, stoat, otter, pine marten, mink, ferret , and rodents - squirrels, rabbits, hare) have five.  Cloven footed animals (deer, sheep and cows) have two.

Second clue: size. Is the track much bigger than a fifty pence piece- it’s most likely a dog or fox. Cat tracks are smaller and rounder and fifty pence size or smaller usually.

Third clue: presence of claw marks. Dogs and foxes have triangular claw marks in front of rounded toe pads, or sometimes joined together so the look almond shaped. Cats retract their claws so just show rounded toe pads.

Fourth clue: shape. Foxes leave an elongated print on which you can draw and ‘X’ between the outer toes and the pad while cats have more rounded prints that are wider than they are longer. Domestic dog prints are about as wide as they are long.

What kind of cat is it? Unfortunately you cannot tell a feral cat print apart from a wildcat print alone. See more paw prints on our Facebook page.

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.

Contact hello@scottishwildcataction.org for more information or visit our website at www.scottishwildcataction.org

 

Heritage Lottery Fund

This content was made possible by our Partners & Funders at Heritage Lottery Fund

By:

Image for Emma Rawling

Emma is responsible for the Strathbogie area and coordinating Scottish Wildcat Action's volunteers. She has previously worked as a wildlife ranger and warden, with species like red squirrels, ospreys and beavers, as well as being a vet nurse and working in animal welfare. She is based at the FES office near Elgin.

email

07733 308002

Scottish Wildcat Action on twitter

Scottish Wildcats @SaveOurWildcats

Good afternoon folks! We're now on LinkedIn as well if anyone is interested in joining us there -… twitter.com/i/web/status/9…

5h