One of the rarest cats in the world, the beautiful and elusive Scottish wildcat will soon be extinct unless people make a concerted effort to save it.
The Scottish wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia) is an ancient species that originally roamed the UK alongside cave bears and mammoths. A powerful symbol for certain ancient Scottish warrior clans, the Scottish wildcat has not fared so well in modern times. Once plentiful, these cats now number fewer than 400 and could become extinct within a decade.
Scottish wildcats are approximately one-and-a-half times the size of domestic cats. Despite their resemblance to common tabbies, Scottish wildcats hold the distinction of being completely untameable, even when raised in captivity. A Scottish wildcat will fight to the death to maintain its freedom rather than submitting to domestication.
The Tiger of the Highlands
Nicknamed the Tiger of the Highlands, the Scottish wildcat is rarely seen by people due to its shy and secretive nature. As a result, many people in Scotland do not believe the cat exists and assume that the Tiger of the Highlands is a mythological creature.
Scottish wildcats are extremely strong and can take down prey much larger than themselves. They are also less fearful of water than domesticated cats, and have been known to fish occasionally, scooping fish out of the water, tossing them into the air and pouncing on them.
A Victim of Human Persecution
Wildcat populations have declined dramatically over the years as a result of human persecution, and the population of pure wildcats has been further diminished through interbreeding with homeless domesticated cats, the offspring of which are not as effective at surviving out in the wild.
Gaming estates catering to hunters have slaughtered countless wildcats, viewing them as competition for prey despite the fact that the cats did not take a significant amount of game. World War I drew away many gamekeepers to participate in the fighting, and this combined with a decline in hunting enabled the population of Scottish wildcats to rebound somewhat, but extensive habitat loss and interbreeding with domestic cats continue to decimate the pure wildcat population.
Saving the Scottish Wildcat
In more recent years, farmers have begun to recognize the wildcats’ value in keeping rabbit populations from running out of control and destroying crops. Captive breeding programs are working toward increasing the number of Scottish wildcats, with offspring being reintroduced into the wild. Efforts on behalf of habitat conservation will also have a beneficial effect. However, if the Scottish wildcats cannot be saved through more traditional means, some of the few remaining cats may be cloned to keep the species from dying out completely.
How to Help
Raising awareness of the precarious future of the Scottish wildcat is critical to its survival, because at this point, only human support can bring this ecologically valuable species back from the brink of extinction. The Scottish Wildcats Association, which provides information and advocacy on behalf of this endangered species, will soon have an established charity through which people can support efforts to save these extremely rare cats. Additionally, an award-winning independent British film production company, Coffee Films, has recently produced a documentary called Last of the Scottish Wildcats to draw attention to the plight of the Tiger of the Highlands. Half the profits from the sale of the DVD will go to support the Scottish Wildcats Association charity.
- Coffeefilms.com. (2006).“Scottish Wildcats.”
- Johnston, I. (30 March 2008). “Cloning may help Scottish wildcats survive.” Telegraph.co.uk.
- Scottish Wildcat Association. (2008). “Scotland’s Cat; 400 and counting…” and “The Scottish Wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia).”
- Unwin, B. (22 February 2008). “Scottish wildcat survey to record wild numbers.” Telegraph.co.uk.
- Watkins, J. (2 February 2008). “Tall tales and tartan tabbies.” Telegraph.co.uk.