Scottish Wild Cat Photographs at the British Wildlife Centre Surrey
It seems hard to believe, but apparently there are thought to be only around a hundred of these beautiful creatures remaining in the wild. Looking at a figure like that, it seems that extinction is inevitable.
These creatures are nothing like domestic cats. Nor do they resemble feral cats. This is a true wild predator, and a very aggressive one when it needs to be. It isn’t possible to domesticate one of these animals. They’ve also been known to breed with feral cats. It’s an ancient breed which existed long before domestic cats arrived on the scene. Scottish Wild Cats can be bred in captivity but they can’t be tamed. And in the wild they are highly elusive. They are physically so strong that they have no problems at all taking down a young deer.
The numbers have decreased for reasons which are all too common. That includes deforestation, trapping and killing by humans and more recently hybridisation with feral domestic cats. The latter dilutes the gene pool and the resulting animal doesn’t tend to demonstrate authentic Scottish Wildcat behaviour.
There are however breeding programs and surveillance programs. The British Wildlife Centre at Lingfield in Surrey has managed to successfully breed and rear several of these animals. And I have been very fortunate to photograph them over the years, often at very close quarters from within their enclosure.
As you’ll see from the photographs, they’re big solid animals. A genuine Scottish Wildcat can grow to around 30lbs in weight, although the hybrids tend to be smaller. They can sprint at around 30 mph and they can drop from quite a height from a tree and remain unhurt. Their fur is much thicker than that of a domestic cat, enabling them to withstand harsh winters. Like most cats, they tend to enjoy their own company. Vets tasked with identifying or treating one of these cats will normally resort to a tranquilizer dart. But the cat will only be aggressive if it feels directly threatened.
As you might guess, Scottish Wild Cats are carnivores. In the wild they exist on a diet of rabbits, rats, hares and small mammals. The average litter consists of around three kittens born in early spring, cared for purely by the mother.
These amazing felines were once widespread across the British Isles, but the few which remain are confined to the Scottish highlands. You can learn more about them here at the Scottish Wildcat Action website.