Latest News - The winter’s not over yet and neither is SWA’s hard work

The winter’s not over yet and neither is SWA’s hard work

It’s been a busy winter fieldwork season so far for our hardy band of volunteers and of course our three Project Officers.

One of the key challenges up until now has been the weather, with much of their work being done in the snow and ice and if the forecast from the end of the weekend until the middle of March is anything to go by we are not quite out of winter yet!

Whilst we have seen examples of snow and ice providing additional assistance when tracking cats, such as foot prints found in the snow, there are challenges for the cats themselves as many will be less likely to head out on the hunt if the snow is too deep.

Cats by their very nature do not like doing things the hard way and GPS tracking of cats which we’ve carried out in the past shows they tend to favour paths and tracks and in snowy conditions move more under woodland cover rather than trudging through fields of snow which might be ankle deep even for human walkers. But often hunger is the extra motivator and the wildcats are quite often forced to risk the conditions to find vital food in preparation for breeding.

And it’s the breeding wildcats which are at the forefront of the minds of our Project Officers as they continue to try and trap, neuter, vaccinate and return as many feral or farm cats as they can in order to reduce the hybridisation risk to our endangered wildcats.

Whilst we have evidence that there are still wildcats out there, we also know that there are far more feral cats, which in the absence of a partner of their own species become a tempting proposition for wandering male wildcats.

Feral cats also carry disease which presents another threat to the Scottish wildcat. The risk of a wildcat contracting a dangerous disease such as FIV (feline HIV) or FeLV (feline leukaemia) are particularly high where feral and wildcats share the same territory.

The GPS collaring work being carried out this winter by Oxford University WildCRU’s Kerry Kilshaw forms a crucial part of the work to understand wildcat movement and where they are moving in relation to the feral cat population.

In addition we are carrying out DNA sampling of wildcats this winter, which will in turn help inform our future work and the work being done by our partners at Royal Zoological Society Scotland, who run the conservation breeding programme at the Highland Wildlife Park.

Due to the small numbers of wildcats left in the wild the conservation breeding programme has become a crucial safety net for the species, which may not not be able to sustain viable populations without our intervention.

So as we continue to work hard, through one of the busiest periods of the five year project so far, we know that the work being done by our Project Officers, volunteers and our partners is more crucial than ever in our fight to save this iconic species from extinction. The time is now to save the Scottish wildcat.

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