Scottish wildcats should really be called British wildcats. They once roamed throughout England and Wales as well as Scotland but the Victorians made hunting and shooting such a popular sport that we pushed the species to the edge of extinction. Gamekeepers were employed to keep down the number of predators that threatened grouse and other game birds on hunting estates. It's probably fair to say that changes in the way we used the land also didn't help and wildcat habitat became fragmented and lost.
Image: The six wildcat priority areas identified by Scottish Wildcat Action based on wildcat survey work
Sandy Fleming is 88 years old and has always been a "keen shot". He started life working in the shipyards before ending up running a major public company in the textile industry. His father rented a grouse moor between Arrochar and Tarbet on Loch Lomond.
In 1936, when Sandy was still a young man, the two were together walking up the side of a larch plantation when a wildcat broke cover and headed towards the moor.
"In those days, wildcats were considered vermin. There were plenty of them about," said Sandy.
His father shot it and had it stuffed.
Wildcats only became a protected species in 1988 when it became illegal to harm or disturb them. More information about their legal status is available here.
"Now that the animals are in danger of extinction, seeing what they were like may help to preserve those that are left," he said. Sandy has now donated the stuffed wildcat to Scottish Wildcat Action to use for educational purposes.
Image: Scottish wildcat, donated by Sandy Fleming
The wildcat has been on quite a journey as Sandy now lives in Northern Ireland and the very large (and heavy) display case the stuffed cat lives in was transported by various members of Scottish Wildcat Action staff and volunteers in different stages until it came to live in Aviemore. It became a sort of wildcat tag team.
Although it's a sad end for this animal as far as conservationists are concerned, we hope we can show people what wildcats look like to help people report sightings of any they see in the wild and to raise awareness of the plight of our native cat. As an aside, you can find wildcat resources on our website here if you are interested in helping with this.
Image: Public sightings made through the Scottish Wildcat Action website
This wildcat will be making his debut over the summer as he is taken to various events and Highland Shows in order to raise awareness of the plight of his descendants and encourage people to take action to protect those few that remain. It's really important this includes working with gamekeepers to help us find ways to protect wildcats that may live on their land.
With thanks to Sandy for sharing his story and his generous donation.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or visit our website at www.scottishwildcataction.org