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Could You Spot A Wildcat?

You don’t have to go out in the cold wintry weather to try and catch a glimpse of a wildcat. You can begin your quest in the comfort and warmth of your own home!

We’ve been uploading camera trap images from our surveys onto a platform called MammalWeb. Mammalweb is a great way for us all to capture and record data about our wildlife. It allows you to look through photos of wildlife which have passed in front of our camera traps and help to log sightings of different mammal species, including the wildcat.

A camera trap is a motion-sensitive camera which has usually been set up against a post or tree. It is activated when something moves in front of it and this is when the pictures are taken.

We need to identify cats in the myriad of images collected by our cameras, but it is also helpful to us to know what other species are visiting these same locations. MammalWeb allows you to contribute to our data collection by classifying images from our cameras.

Once you’ve registered on the site as a ‘spotter’, which doesn’t take long, you will then be able to head to the ‘learn’ tab and click on the ‘learn about animals’ option. Here, you can look at pictures of the different mammal species and read a description about them. This is a great starting point before embarking on your classification journey, as you’ll then know what you’re looking for.

You can also come back to this part of the website at any time to double-check that you’re classifying correctly and if you’re still unsure which species is in the picture, then you can ‘skip’ it and move onto the next picture.

Once logged in, head to the project page to begin classifying.

As well as mammals, you may also spot our various cat lures in the pictures. We thought we’d take a moment to explain what these look like, so that we don’t knock you off the scent of looking for the elusive wildcat.

When looking at the pictures which contain a camera trap, you may think that there’s a bird in the picture, when in actual fact it’s a lure for the wildcats.

A feather or pheasant wing is tied to the post just above the camera’s viewpoint, which attracts the cat’s attention by swinging in the air, acting as a visual stimulus. Bait, usually a small game bird or chicken legs, hang from the top of the post or is tied to a tree trunk. A pouch of Valerian root is tied at cat head height on a post or separate tree if there is one, usually a short distance from the bait. The scent of Valerian root is irresistible to cats, but rather pungent to humans! Below is a picture illustrating what a typical camera trap set-up looks like:    

Now that we know what the set-up looks like, what is the difference between a wildcat and a hybrid, feral or domestic cat? The below illustrations show the differences between each of the types of cat:

Now that you know what a camera trap looks like and the differences between a wildcat, hybrid and tabby, why not have a go at classifying on Mammalweb and see if you can spot a wildcat!

If you have your own camera and live in northern Scotland, you can also upload your own camera images to the wildcat project. See our project page on MammalWeb for further info. Make sure you upload all images (not just the cats) and follow our handy guide.

Mammalweb can be accessed at http://www.mammalweb.org and why not check out our website for more information on wildcats http://www.scottishwildcataction.org

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Image for Jenny Wemyss

Jenny is involved with the delivery of Scottish Wildcat Action’s Communications plan and the promotion of the project's key messages through our website and social media channels. She is based at Scottish Natural Heritage, in Inverness.

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