I am squeezing the writing of the blog this week between daily trips around the Strathpeffer Wildcat Priority Area meeting with local volunteers and landowners, and getting the last trail cameras out for the winter survey. Planning and conducting a survey on this scale has been a logistical challenge, but the efforts of everyone involved are already being rewarded. The cat pictures are starting to roll in, especially with the onset of colder weather pushing the hungry wildcats into the path of our carefully placed and baited ‘camera-traps’.
The Strathpeffer camera volunteers have already found several new possible wildcats, in areas where they have not previously been recorded (or at least, not for many years). But the survey is not just looking for wildcats – we are actually targeting feral cats and hybrid cats (cats with a mixture of domestic and wildcat ancestry), in order to direct the TNVR (Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return) effort once the survey is over. For every wildcat captured to date, there are usually several obvious hybrids and feral cats trailing along behind. It is vital that we know where these cats are, and who they are: most importantly, are they owned domestic pets, or feral cats that are most likely unvaccinated and unneutered?
Here are a selection of images from just one trail camera, located several miles outside of the (relatively) major population centre of Dingwall. The camera has been in place for several months now, and we have identified a minimum of 4 regular visitors. From top to bottom, they are: a possible wildcat; an obvious hybrid or tabby feral cat (note the white paws); a domestic cat that might have a little wildcat heritage somewhere in its ancestry; and lastly a (presumed) feral domestic cat.
Camera trap volunteers are getting to know their local cat communities, and have been informing myself and local vet Alice Bacon to be able to begin a small-scale TNVR pilot programme. We’ll be keeping you updated as more images from our surveys filter in.
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. See www.scottishwildcataction.org/how-you-can-help to get involved.