Friday, 14 September 2012

Scottish wildcat faces extinction within months

Days before Scottish Natural Heritage begin formulating their action plan for the Scottish wildcat, conservationists warn that numbers may have slumped to 35 individuals and that significant policy change is essential.

September 2012. Critical analysis of efforts to identify Scottish wildcat populations over the last five years has concluded that the population numbers just 35 individuals.
2000 records assessed
A team put together by the Scottish Wildcat Association has appraised over 2000 records including camera trap sightings, eye witness reports and roadkills collected independently by organisations such as the SWA, Cairngorms Wildcat Project and Oxford University.
Threatened by hybridisation
Wildcats are threatened primarily with hybridisation; cross-mating with feral domestic cats. The "hybrid" offspring in turn mate with more wildcats, ferals and hybrids creating a confusing spectrum of cats that look similar to wildcats, but behave very differently putting pressure on prey species and raising conflicts with rural businesses.
1% of cats are true wildcats
Of the 2000 records of hybrids and wildcats less than 20 comply with the accepted coat-marking identifiers of the true wildcat, with an estimated 3500 hybrids in Scotland this would mean there were just 35 wildcats remaining.
"However you juggle the figures it's hard to find anything positive," comments SWA chairman Steve Piper, "if you ignore the eye witness sightings because they're unreliable the numbers get even worse, if you hypothesise that wildcats avoid roads they only pick up a little, even if you decide the population of hybrids is larger you have to multiply it to impossible levels to get to the commonly quoted figure of 400 wildcats. The overwhelming evidence is that the wildcat is going to be extinct within months, anything else is blind hope."

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