An action plan is a detailed technical document that precisely outlines all the steps within a conservation project. On the following pages you can find a simplified breakdown of the Wildcat Haven Action Plan outlining the project, the thinking behind it and some of the discoveries so far.
Wildcat Haven was initially designed by a team of experts in 2008/09. Since then, it has evolved to incorporate experiences from the fieldwork, emerging science and feedback from the local community. Designed to have the flexibility to evolve over time, the project can ensure we are always delivering the most well informed and practical conservation actions and animal welfare standards.
Our work includes a wide range of actions and ambitious aims including::
- Saving the genetically pure Scottish wildcat
- Removing all feral cats from the region
- Using humane, neutering-based feral cat controls
- Establishing buffer zones to prevent feral cats returning to the area
- Testing for and removing feline diseases from the entire haven
- Developing a genetic test for wildcat purity
- Establishing project-owned wildcat reserves across the region
- Documenting every individual cat in the area
- Conducting unique research into cat behaviour, genetics and diseases
- Building wildcat education and awareness worldwide
- Encouraging reforesting to enhance natural habitat
- Working alongside local communities and landowners
- Advising locally owned, low impact, pro-wildcat tourism
- Creating new jobs in the local community
Most importantly, Wildcat Haven seeks to create and then protect a naturally sustainable population of up to 1,000 pure Scottish wildcats across the West Highlands region of Scotland.
We have identified hybridisation as the primary threat to the Scottish wildcat. Research suggests that feral domestic cats outnumber wildcats by a ratio of at least 500:1, and perhaps by as much as 2500:1* across the Highlands.
This places the feral cat population at approximately 100,000, and the pure wildcat population between 35 and 200.
In a landscape which is home to a large, multi-generational feral cat population that is regularly supplemented by abandoned cats, town strays and farm cats, we surmised that the most practical way to save the wildcat with the limited funds available was by focusing on establishing a small safe haven where all feral cats have been humanely removed, local community support has been sought in ensuring all pet cats are neutered, and it is possible to protect against feral cats migrating back in.
With such a “beachhead” established, the project could then simply expand in bite-size stages.
*(Harris et al 1995, Yamaguchi et al 2004, Scottish Wildcat Association 2012 unpublished)
We identified a location in Lochaber in the West Highlands: specifically, a peninsula with a small bottleneck landbridge, a resident pure wildcat population and relatively few feral cats.
In order to build support for the project and obtain valuable local knowledge, we engaged with the local community which has proved invaluable in the evolution of our action plan.
Feral cats – being the primary threat to the survival of the wildcat – had to be removed from the region as a priority. With evidence from across the globe showing that lethal-control projects often failed, we made the decision to trial a non-lethal neutering approach.
We use live trapping methods to humanely capture feral cats in the area, which are subsequently health-checked and neutered by a vet.
This trapping method allows us to see the wildcats up close, helping us to assess the health of the population, precisely map its genetic makeup and accurately define wildcats as hybrid or pure.
By comparing genetic samples from wildcat skins that are up to 150 years old against samples from the living population, and utilising research into genetic identification, we can accurately estimate the number and type of wildcat in the region.
We also use the samples from the living population in our feline disease research to assess the threat and prevalence of various diseases.
To monitor the feline population, we use camera traps and radio collars which tell us how cats behave and utilise the landscape. This data is also used to enhance the habitat for wildcats, either through reforesting or improving habitats for their prey species.
We work closely with several local tourism operators to develop wildcat-friendly, locally-controlled tourism which benefits both wildcats and the local community.
NEXT: Local Community