Is It Over For The Scottish Wildcat?

I have feared this for years. The trouble with the Scottish wildcat, an extremely rare and critically endangered wild cat subspecies, is that it is able to mate with stray domestic and feral cats. The offspring look a bit different to the wild cat. They are first filial wildcat hybrids. However, they don’t look that different to the original cat. The only certain way of knowing if a cat that looks like a Scottish wildcat is a purebred Scottish wildcat is through a genetic, DNA test. Without that you are guessing. Appearance is not enough as the Scottish wildcat really looks like a strong, stocky, tabby grey/brown domestic cat.

Scottish Wildcat

Scottish Wildcat – Photo by Peter G Trimming

For years we have been told that there are about 400 Scottish wildcats left in the wild. There was a real desire about a year ago to trap-neuter-return stray and feral cats in Scotland to stop the hybridization of the Scottish wildcat. In other words to stop unaltered stray cats procreating after mating with the Scottish wildcat. That project was being worked on. But it seems that conservationists may be too late.

Conservationists at the Scottish Wildcat Association (SWA) are now saying:

There could be as few as 35 purebreds left in the wild…

What made them change their mind?  Perhaps it is simply a case of facing reality.

This wild cat subspecies (the SWA say it is a distinct species) is on the brink of extinction – or extinct perhaps? It is Britain’s most precious wild animal.

This is serious because the experts don’t know if they are already extinct. They say they might be extinct at any time but if they are guessing the numbers of true wildcats how do they know? Technically, they could have become extinct a long time ago.

Below a certain population level a population of wild cats becomes unsustainable due to inbreeding and consequent sterility. This is happening with the Siberian tiger (400 tigers but in effect 14 tigers in term of breeding ability).

Basically, this is depressing but unsurprising. I don’t like being a doomster, the bringing of bad news but there is a gradual overall downward trend for the sum total of all individual wild cats of all the wild cat species on the planet.

There is nothing going on that tells us that the trend is changing or will change.

The original story is reported in the national website of Scotland. The Scottish Wildcat Association now report of the home page of their website that there are:

…less than 100 individuals appearing to remain in the wild…

This is slightly different but equally alarming.

That is the news. I sense a despair in the way this information is reported. Overall the IUCN Red List™ classifies the wildcat as “Least Concern”. But the Scottish wildcat is a subspecies and they admit that it could be critically endangered.

Original photo on Flickr

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