Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) - Final Summary Report 2023

Roo Campbell, Beatriz S. G. Alves, Neil Anderson, Alice Bacon, David Barclay, Katie Beckmann, Vicky Burns, Roo Campbell, Hebe Carus, Martin Gaywood, Calum Hislop, Kerry Kilshaw, Andrew Kitchener, Kenny Kortland, Keri Langridge, David W. Macdonald, Duncan R McKenzie, Anna Meredith, Rob Ogden, Emma Rawlings SmithHelen Senn, Nicola Tallach, Jenny Wemyss

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

Abstract / Description of output

The wildcat in Scotland is threatened by a combination of low population size, hybridisation with domestic cats, accidental persecution and potentially, road traffic accidents, disease and habitat loss and / or change.
The Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan (SWCAP) was produced in 2013 with the input of over 20 partner organisations and was based on earlier work to conserve the wildcat in the Cairngorms. The Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) project was established to take forward many of the activities identified within the SWCAP.
The SWA work was centred on three pillars: to work within wildcat geographical ‘Priority Areas’ to reduce the risks of hybridisation, disease and accidental persecution; to establish a conservation breeding programme; and to improve our knowledge of the status and ecology of the wildcat.
Within the Priority Areas, we worked with over 140 volunteers to detect and trap, for neutering and vaccinating, 205 feral domestic and obvious hybrid cats. We also encouraged the neutering and vaccination of pet cats. We engaged with estates to reduce the risks to wildcats during predator control procedures. We also worked closely with forestry staff to reduce risks to wildcats during forestry operations and to develop ways of improving the forest habitat for wildcats, including testing the use of artificial dens.
To establish a conservation breeding programme, we genetically screened all fertile captive wildcats in the Scottish Wildcat Studbook. We also screened 13 potential wildcats from the wild outside of the Priority Areas, of which two individuals were taken into the conservation breeding programme. Between August 2015 and October 2019 we increased the captive wildcat breeding population by 67% from 64 to 107 animals, with an average annual offspring survival rate of 85%.
To improve our knowledge of the wildcat in Scotland, we collected over one million images in camera-trap surveys of wild-living cats, identifying 356 cats within Priority Areas, including 31 wildcats as identified by coat pattern. We also collected 769 cat records from the public, 45 of these we verified as wildcat based on appearance. We fitted GPS collars to 14 wildcat-hybrids, using the data to inform forestry management, identify rest sites and examine habitat use and movement patterns of the cats. We investigated disease and toxins in wild-living cats, identifying a broad range of infectious agents and showing that cats accumulate rodenticides (rodent poisons) in their tissues. We ran genetic tests on 529 cat samples, finding that no samples taken from wild-living cats alive during the project scored as wildcat. We examined the morphology of 118 dead cats, over half of which were killed on our roads, with none proving to be wildcats. Morphology and genetic results indicate high levels of hybridisation in the current wild-living cat population and that the level of hybridisation has increased markedly since about 1995.
Overall we detected too few cats that looked like wildcats in our Priority Areas for their populations to be sustainable in the short term, and too few nationally outside Priority Areas to be viable in the long term. In 2019 we shared survey and genetic results with members of the IUCN SSC (International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Species Survival Commission) Cat Specialist Group, who concluded in their own independent review that the wild population was no longer viable without reinforcement or reintroduction.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherScottish Wildcat Action (SWA)
Commissioning bodyScotland's Nature Agency
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Mar 2023

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