Latest News - Meet another of our Scottish Wildcat Action volunteers - Lara Semple

Meet another of our Scottish Wildcat Action volunteers - Lara Semple

Pictured above is Lara (third from the right) and some of our other volunteers receiving training from Project Officers Emma Rawling and Keri Langridge

"If there's some large cat in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call? Your project officer! If there's something weird, and it don't look domesticated, who you gonna call? Your project officer!"

My first few weeks as a Winter Fieldwork Full Time Volunteer for Scottish Wildcat Action have been great.

Firstly, some background. I completed my Master’s degree in International Nature Conservation from Goettingen University, Germany including semesters in Australia, New Zealand and India. I grew up working in my family’s boarding cattery business where I become familiar with a lot of different cat breeds, cat handling and behaviour, common ailments, dietary requirements and grooming techniques.

I am currently based in the priority area of Strathpeffer; a 4000ha area stretching from Scatwell Estate to Wyvis Estate to Muir of Ord. I am enjoying this region as everyone is friendly and there is plenty to explore. My first task was to ensure all the trail cameras were up and running which included visits to Kinellan, Jamestown, Black Muir woods and Fodderty.

I’ve also been busy meeting other volunteers, making valerian pouches, familiarising myself with individual cats I am likely to see, engraving, labeling and cleaning traps ready for this year’s survey season. Last year’s trail cameras had taken photos of cats which were obviously domestic and most likely pets but were unknown to the project in terms of name and owners. It was a mystery and I felt like a cat detective, trying to locate whether these cats had an owner. All I had was a camera location and a photo to go on.

It is important to have an idea of whether a cat is owned or not because we do not want to trap any of these cats in the traps targeted at feral cats. We target feral/stray cats using trapping for neutering to reduce the threat to wildcats of hybridisation. We leaflet houses in advance in the nearby area to the trap location to let households know and advise they keep their pets inside during this time period. However if we do get pet cats in the traps and we recognise your cat, we can let them go immediately to return home. Therefore matching cat to owner before the trapping season is very helpful preparation.

One cat was photographed last year outside Jamestown along a stone dyke. It was a gorgeous grey cat with green eyes. I was tasked with speaking to the locals to try to find this cat’s owner. One person pointed me to another who pointed to another. Finally I came to a house I’d been told had two pet cats, I was kindly invited inside and suddenly sleeping soundly on the chair in the living room was the cat I’d been searching for! I felt like a cat detective that had solved a mystery. Not only this, but she was vaccinated, micro-chipped and neutered, making her a Supercat! Her owner told me she is an active cat, often going out at night to hunt. Therefore she is a likely candidate for us to catch accidentally in our nearby traps, making it important we recognise her immediately.

This is just one example of my work for the conservation of the Scottish wildcat which would not be possible without the supportive and friendly community in this area. In the next few months I will continue putting in the hours to help the project and continue gaining experience in this ambitious and valuable conservation project.

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Image for Lara Semple

Lara graduated from her Bachelor's degree in Zoology and immediately decided to specialise in wildlife conservation by undertaking a masters degree from Goettingen University, Germany. This allowed her to travel to New Zealand, Australia and India to study their ecosystems and conservation issues. Now she is dedicating her time to the conservation of Scottish Wildcats in the Strathpeffer area to gain more experience with British mammals.

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