A plan to release wildcats into the Scottish Highlands and help bring the endangered species back from the brink of extinction has been given the green flag.  

Conservationists have been granted a licence to hold a series of trial releases later this year, where animals reared in captivity will be set free in the Cairngorms.  

The decision to go ahead marks the first time wildcats have been reintroduced to the wild, where they are currently considered critically endangered.  

Native to Scotland, wildcats have suffered from loss of habitat and hybridisation with domestic felines, and their numbers are thought to be perilously low.  

Scottish Government agency NatureScot has granted a licence the Saving Wildcats partnership to release the wildcats in the Cairngorms National Park later this year. 

Each will be tracked with a GPS collar and their welfare will be monitored from a distance. But the animals will be free to range and establish themselves in the park.

The Herald:  

Also known as the Highland Tiger, wildcats are elusive and secretive animals which feed on small mammals and birds.  

The release is the first time a predator has been reintroduced to the landscape, and follows similar schemes involving beavers at different sites across Scotland.  

Led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the application from Saving Wildcats was submitted in September 2022 and assessed by NatureScot in line with the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations.  

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Saving Wildcats project lead and RZSS Head of Conservation Dr Helen Senn said: “It is fantastic to reach this milestone and press ahead with planning for trial wildcat releases in the Cairngorms over the summer.“ 

“When the time comes, we will be able to move wildcats under license from pre-release enclosures at Highland Wildlife Park to carefully selected areas in the Cairngorms Connect landscape which provide a suitable mix of habitats and potential prey for the species. 

“After release, the wildcats face the many challenges of life in the wild. The fight to restore Scotland’s wildcat populations is just beginning and we are grateful to everyone providing expertise and support along the way.” 

The Herald:

NatureScot’s Head of Biodiversity Dr Katherine Leys said the release program offered a “lifeline” for the species 

She added: “Our decision to grant a translocation licence to allow wildcats to be released in the Highlands of Scotland marks a crucial point in the long journey towards conserving this iconic species. 

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“This journey is not without difficulty, and we know that there are more hurdles to overcome before we reach the point where we are ready to release the wildcats into carefully selected areas of the Cairngorms National Park.  

“Once there, the wildcats will face further challenges, so it’s crucial the project continues to work with local communities, farmers, land-owners and cat owners to ensure wildcats are given the best chance to survive and thrive.”