Latest News - Farm cats neutered and vaccinated in bid to save Scottish wildcats

Farm cats neutered and vaccinated in bid to save Scottish wildcats

It’s been a thirteen hour day and I am covered head to toe in cat hair, smelling distinctly like tom cat pee and itching all over from cat lice, so why am I grinning from ear to ear? Well, it’s because it’s been one of the best days I have had on the job so far, one where I feel I have made a real difference for wildcats by doing Trap Neuter Vaccinate Return (TNVR).

Whilst making preparations for feral cat TNVR recently, I started by visiting every home within a 2 mile radius of our feral cat hotspots (mostly in woodland) to let people know what we are doing to help wildcats and how to make sure their pet cat doesn’t accidentally get caught during the TNVR process. This has led to some great conversations about wildcat sightings and the chance to further spread the message about responsible pet ownership.

Hybridisation is perhaps the biggest threat to our native cat species, the Scottish wildcat, and unneutered domestic cats that come into contact with them can breed and produce fertile offspring. Because wildcats are vastly outnumbered, this dilutes their gene pool and carries the additional risk of disease transmission.

Feral colony

During one of these house visits, I came across a farm with a real cat problem: a huge feral cat colony. Worryingly, this farm sits only a few fields away from a large forest owned by Forestry Commission Scotland where we know wildcats are clinging on. Alarm bells rang when I saw what seemed like dozens of cats in the farmyard.

Luckily the elderly farmer really cares about cats as well as wildlife so once I explained the risk to wildcats of uncontrolled breeding and diseases, he was willing to work with us to tackle these risks, especially as TNVR also improves the welfare of the cats like the ones on his farm.

It took several visits and lots of work to get the cats used to being fed near our humane cage traps and then time to liaise with our local Strathbogie vets who have vast experience tackling feral colonies. Finally, everything was in place to TNVR these cats.

So the big day dawned and, with the kind help of our local SSPCA inspector Alison, who lent us extra traps and cages, we set about the task with quiet and patient determination. We didn’t want the cats stressed or to get scratched! Luckily food proved the perfect motivator and within a couple of hours we had all 26 cats safely caught and ready to transfer to the vets.

What a sight our convoy of 3 vehicles packed to the rafters with cats made! Once at the vet that same afternoon, the cats were quickly assessed for any urgent health needs. One had an existing head injury so was treated immediately. The others were separated into males and females before being bedded down each in their own cage for the night.

Next morning it was an efficient and quick system the vet practice used to treat each cat: vet nurses weighed and labelled each cat, then a vet sedated and health checked them and took a small blood sample for disease testing. Once the result of this was known, the cat went to the next room to another vet who did the neutering surgery and vaccinated them. Finally another vet nurse administered flea and worm treatments whilst monitoring recovery.

Once each cat showed signs of waking, it was transferred back to its clean cage in the recovery room to sleep off the experience. By late afternoon, all were awake and by later that evening they were all eating well. What an amazing effort by this wonderful professional team!

Sadly six of the cats from this colony where put down: one due to an untreatable existing head injury, and five as they tested positive for FIV, or cat aids, the debilitating and untreatable fatal illness often caught during fighting and mating (Editors note: the photo below shows some of the 'snap tests' used, with number 313 showing a positive result for FIV. You'll also see some repeated numbers where we had to do a retest to make sure). The farmer was pleased to know that all other local cats (ferals, pets and wildcats) were protected by removing these disease carriers who could have infected so many others.

The four youngest members of the colony were kittens less than 10 weeks old and they have been transferred to a local cat welfare volunteer group for fostering and eventual rehoming.

It was my great pleasure to take the rest of the cats home the next morning to the farm and release them. Some went off like rockets back to their favourite hiding places in the barns, and some went straight to their food!

So by the end of the three days I am dirty, have definitely been peed on more than once, and am scratching subconsciously after seeing so many fleas and lice on these cats. But what a satisfying feeling to know that this colony of farm ferals are now healthy and protected from disease and that, as a result, local wildcats are also safer. What a great feeling! This is what TNVR is all about! Now off for another shower just in case there are any more fleas…

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.

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Image for Emma Rawling

Emma is responsible for the Strathbogie area and coordinating Scottish Wildcat Action's volunteers. She has previously worked as a wildlife ranger and warden, with species like red squirrels, ospreys and beavers, as well as being a vet nurse and working in animal welfare. She is based at the FES office near Elgin.


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