A wildlife park in Scotland is celebrating the birth of four critically endangered wildcat kittens.
One male and three female kittens – Strom, Eilein, Druim and Vaara – were recently born during lockdown at Highland Wildlife Park, near Aviemore.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) unveiled the playful new arrivals this week as the park’s wildcat viewing areas reopened to the public. Visitors are encouraged to wear a face mask/covering in order to keep the animals and other people safe, following reports of cats contracting COVID-19 from humans.
In a press release, Keith Gilchrist, animal collection manager at Highland Wildlife Park, said, ‘We are thrilled to welcome the birth of four kittens, who were born during lockdown in May, to mum Fiain and dad Blair.’
He added, ‘We have one male, Strom, and three females, Eilein, Druim and Vaara. It has been great watching them grow, and it is fantastic to now be able to welcome visitors to meet them too.’
Scottish wildcats are a European protected species. While they’re the only native member of the cat family still found in the wild in the UK, they’re one of Scotland’s ‘rarest and most threatened mammals’.
As per a survey conducted by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) across 2015-2018, only 20% are full wildcats, with the remaining 80% being crossbreeds or domestic.
In response to their rising endangerment, the RZSS is coordinating a new partnership project named Saving Wildcats, which ‘aims to secure a future for this iconic species by breeding and releasing wildcats into the wild’.
David Barclay, Saving Wildcats’ offsite conservation manager, explained:
Following a sad history of habitat loss, persecution and, more recently, breeding with domestic cats, wildcats are on the brink of extinction in Scotland but it’s not too late.
By bringing together the expertise and skills of national and international organisations, the Saving Wildcats project can secure a future for the Highland tiger by breeding and releasing wildcats into the wild, so every birth is a potential lifeline for the species.
Earlier in August, plans emerged for a ‘large-scale’ breeding centre at the Highland Wildlife Park, designed specifically to prevent the extinction of Scottish wildcats.
The ‘breeding and release’ of wildcats is being carried out by the Saving Wildcats partnership, led by RZSS in collaboration with NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland, The Cairngorms National Park Authority, Norden’s Ark and Junta de Andalucía.
The LIFE Programme of the European Union, The Garfield Weston Foundation, The National Trust for Scotland, The People’s Trust for Endangered Species and The European Nature Trust have all contributed towards funding the project.
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Topics: Animals, Cats, Critically Endangered, kittens, Now, Scotland
CreditsHighland Wildlife Park
Highland Wildlife Park
Critically endangered wildcat kittens born at Highland Wildlife Park