A study recently concluded that Scottish wildcats are now part of the same gene pool as domestic cats which means that they are functionally extinct which in turn means that they are on the brink of extinction in the wild. And I understand it, “functionally extinct” means that the wild cat population in Scotland is no longer viable or no longer plays a significant role in the ecosystem.
This state of affairs has been predicted and was expected to happen for a long time. The problem has been that Scottish wildcats consistently mate with domestic cats creating a hybrid or a non-purebred Scottish wildcat. By interbreeding with other cats such as strays and ferals the Scottish wild cat gradually destroyed itself as a separate species of animal. Humans did little or nothing to stop it. This is a human created problem.
The lead author of the study conducted at the Wildgenes Lab at Edinburgh Zoo said that the vast majority of Scottish wild cats were hybrids and on the brink of extinction in terms of functionality. The hundred wildcats in captivity across the UK are much more purebred than those in the wild. Those in the wild are now part of the same hybrid gene pool as domestic cats, the researchers stated.
The study incorporated analysing the DNA of (a) 125 wild-living dead cat collected over 25 years (b) 16 historical dead cats collected from 1895 to 1985 (c) 19 trapped cats as part of a survey conducted by Scottish Natural Heritage (d) 72 captive wild cats and (e) 19 domestic cats from the Edinburgh area.
To conclude, therefore, this has been a long journey to a predictable conclusion namely the extinction of the species of wildcats living in Scotland. If you think you see a Scottish wild cat in the wild you are actually looking at a hybrid. They can be quite difficult to differentiate (see image above). Of the few cats which are purebred living in the wild, it is predicted that these will also meet with domestic cats creating more hybrids which draws researchers to the conclusion that the species is in effect extinct.
It seems now that focus needs to be placed upon the pool of captive Scottish wildcats which are more purebred to try and expand the genetic diversity of this group of cats and perhaps in the long-term to reintroduce them into the wild.
There is no information available to me which tells me how good or bad captive Scottish wild cats are with respect to breeding in captivity. On my reading of this subject, it is not uncommon for captive cats to breed very badly due to stress which can make it very difficult to look after wild cat species at zoos. If this is the case with respect to this species then time is pressing because these captive cats will eventually die out in captivity and there will be no cats to replace them. At that point in time the Scottish wildcat would be completely extinct on the planet.
Two previous articles (there are more) written in 2013 when the situation was deteriorating: