Latest News - Breeding for release: the wildcat insurance policy

Breeding for release: the wildcat insurance policy

The Scottish wildcat is on the brink of extinction and it is quite clear we are at a crossroads. Turn left, we do nothing and allow one of Scotland’s most iconic species to disappear. Turn right and we put a plan in place and do everything we can to save it and the ecosystem it needs.

To me, and for most people I hope, this is a simple choice. To save the Scottish wildcat means not only saving a key species at the top of the food chain but also saving habitats, prey species and, in a different way, part of our cultural heritage. Regardless of how anyone spins it, this is a benefit to each and every one of us. We want our country to not only be recognised for the diverse wildlife and nature we have, but also for our efforts to ensure its future survival. Or, in the words of Mollie Beattie: "What a country chooses to save is what a country chooses to say about itself."

Wildcat kitten at Highland Wildlife Park

My role in Scottish Wildcat Action, as Cat Conservation Project Officer for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, is to work with colleagues within the Society, landowners outside the wildcat priority areas and with other zoological collections to establish a new conservation breeding programme for future release into wildcat friendly areas.

This conservation breeding programme is the insurance policy for Scottish wildcats. Using isolated, wild-caught cats living in areas of high risk, we will build up a population from which we can augment populations in the wild, or release cats into areas where threats have been reduced and the habitat and prey requirements are optimal.

I am sometimes asked why we are catching cats from the wild at all – shouldn’t we be leaving them alone to live their life in the wild? My answer to this question is quite simple: in an ideal world we would leave them be, help with in-situ conservation efforts and be content knowing there were healthy, sustainable populations out there. In reality, though, this is far from the truth in many places, particularly out with the designated priority areas.

Wildcat kitten at Highland wildlife Park

Across most of Scotland, evidence suggests that wildcats are extremely low in number, isolated and at great risk from hybridisation. Without a conservation breeding for release programme, working hand in hand with an in situ programme in priority areas, it is unlikely that we will see sustainable wildcat populations in the wild. As with most endangered species when fragmentation and threats to populations continue the risk of localised extinctions increase due to the inability of population growth. By contrast – as we have seen with the recent birth of wildcat kittens at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park – our approach is providing a very real alternative, not to mention a comprehensive Scottish wildcat insurance policy.

Wildcat kitten at Highland Wildlife Park

With more than 20 organisations involved across a wide range of sectors and interests, Scottish Wildcat Action represents the most detailed and diverse national plan we have ever had to save this species and I personally will do everything I can to ensure this happens.  

David will be a regular blogger so will keep you updated on the conservation breeding programme as it progresses. In the meantime, see how you can help.

All images copyright: Alex Riddell/RZSS


Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

This content was made possible by our Partners & Funders at Royal Zoological Society of Scotland


Image for David Barclay

David is the Cat Conservation Project Officer for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and manages the conservation breeding programme for Scottish Wildcat Action. 


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