Adorable but a tiger in a tabby's body. The Scottish wildcat (Image: Steve Piper/Wildcat Haven)
The cute kitten is one of thirty or so pure “Highland Tigers” still left in the wild and will one day, hopefully, play a vital role keeping her bloodline alive in Scotland’s remote glens and forests. For the time being, the kitten is being cared for by experts after being rescued when she wandered into a farmer’s live trap set to protect his chickens. This video of the snarling, feisty kitten helped make the positive identification that she is a true wildcat.
Believed to have been separated from her mother for some time, the kitten was struggling to feed when she was trapped by the farmer in Aberdeenshire. He immediately handed her over to Wildcat Haven conservationists who are looking after her at a bespoke sanctuary over the winter before she is released in the spring.
The female kitten is the third young wildcat rescued this year, with an orphaned brother and sister found wandering near a Highlands road during the summer with no sign of their mother. She had most probably been run over.
Why this latest kitten was roaming alone remains a mystery but somehow she had managed to survive until she ran foul of the farmer. After catching the culprit attacking his coop, the farmer immediately handed here over to the wildcat experts for their safe-keeping.
“It was incredibly exciting when I got the call to investigate the new kitten,” explained Steve Sleigh of Wildcat Haven. “I had no idea what to expect, but as soon as I saw her, I knew she was a wildcat kitten with a thick blunt tail, perfect dorsal stripe marking and ferocious personality. She was snarling and spitting as soon as I went near, but looked very small for her age, she clearly needed to get to a vet straight away.”
Wildcat kitten looks picture of cuteness after calming down (Image: Steve Sleigh/Wildcat Haven)
Medical checks showed she was underweight but otherwise healthy and she is now eating well while recuperating at the West Highlands rescue centre sponsored by Highland Titles. Here, she will live in a large enclosure with limited exposure to humans prior to her release at a remote location, so avoiding conflict or persecution. Wildcat Haven is also surveying potential sites for the other two kittens rescued earlier this summer.
Scottish wildcats are only distantly related to our much-loved tabbies. Domestic cats trace their genetic line back to the Near Eastern wildcat and diverged more than 10,000 years ago. So-called Highland Tigers have been isolated for so long from their nearest European wildcat relatives that they may have evolved into a separate species.
The power and grace of an adult wildcat (Image: GETTY)
Dr Paul O'Donoghue, chief scientific advisor for Wildcat Haven explained how vital the three rescued kittens are for the future of Britain’s rarest mammal.
“These three kittens represent almost ten percent of the current worst-case population estimate, emphasising their importance as a lifeline for the species in the wild,” he said. “We're very lucky to have this incredible rescue centre from Highland Titles to give them all a real chance at a long life in the wild.
“We're reluctant captors and there's no question that these kittens will all return to the wild. We hope the male may bond with the new kitten so that they could be released into adjoining territories, enhancing the chances of them breeding healthy new kittens out in the wild, where these cats belong.”