These kittens will go on to play a vital role in the conservation of the species.
Also known as the ‘Highland Tiger’, this incredibly rare native species is facing the very real threat of extinction due to hybridisation with domestic and feral cats, habitat loss and accidental persecution. However, as a result of coordinated conservation efforts and a conservation breeding programme for eventual release, the species has a fighting chance of survival.
The kittens have spent the first couple of months safely tucked in their dens at the Kingussie park, but have been venturing out more over the last few days. The playful behaviour that park visitors will see between mother and offspring is not just important for their relationship but vital for the kittens to learn key behaviours.
David Barclay, RZSS Cat Conservation project officer said: “The birth of these rare kittens is not just another boost for the captive breeding programme but for the conservation of this magnificent native species as a whole. Through our work with Scottish Wildcat Action, we are doing everything we can to save the Scottish wildcat from extinction and the safety net of the captive breeding programme is becoming more and more vital as wild populations continue to decline.
“We have recently developed an off-show breeding facility for the wildcats, one of the largest of its kind in the world for small cats. Through the conservation breeding and pre-release training programme we will eventually use captive born wildcats to carry out reintroductions across Scotland.”
RZSS Highland Wildlife Park has a strong track record in breeding the Scottish wildcat, helping to maintain a healthy captive population and establishing a conservation breeding for release programme, which will be critical in securing the future of Scotland’s last remaining native cat species.
RZSS is a key partner in Scottish Wildcat Action, the first national project to save the highly endangered Scottish wildcat from extinction. Scottish Wildcat Action brings together more than 20 other organisations in the conservation, scientific and land management communities – supported by Scottish Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund – and represents the best chance the wildcat has of surviving in the long term.
RZSS is leading on the conservation breeding for release aspect of the project.
This will be accomplished with the help of newly built off-show breeding enclosures for Scottish wildcats at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park. The pioneering breeding programme will see a combination of wildcats born in captivity and a select number of wild-caught cats housed in large, naturalistic enclosures, breeding to produce offspring for reintroductions. As the enclosures are off-show, it will ensure the cats do not become accustomed to people or traffic, thereby maintaining the natural behaviours necessary for their survival in the wild.