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How to Report a Wildcat Sighting

Sighting reports from the general public, crofters, farmers and gamekeepers are valuable data for a rarely seen species. Whilst it is exceptionally rare for people to glimpse truly pure wildcats, sightings and assessments of hybrids do allow some estimation of where pure Scottish wildcats still remain and the potential size of the population.

We are particularly interested in sightings of wildcats and high-purity hybrids in the West Highlands, though if you think you may have seen one somewhere else we’re always interested in hearing about it.

Please do read through the identification details below: hybrids look extremely similar to wildcats and we often receive sightings which look very little like wildcats! If you think what you saw came close then please e-mail any details you can remember about the cat and location, along with any photos or video, to: [email protected]

Your name, email address and all details provided to us will be held in perpetuity on a database maintained by Wildcat Haven and utilised for identifying areas with potential for pure wildcats. The data will be shared with legitimate research efforts benefitting wildcats by recognised experts and organisations who commit to respecting data protection and privacy laws in their use of the database.

Identification

Telling wildcats from domestic cats is simple, but telling them from hybrids which can take many forms is very difficult. Text books, news articles and research papers are littered with images of hybrid cats labelled as Scottish wildcats.

The short video below, from Last of the Scottish Wildcats, features experts Prof MacDonald and Dr Kitchener explaining the importance of accurate identification and going over some of the key coat patterns to look out for using study skins from the National Museums of Scotland archives.

markings7

Summarised in the image above, a wildcat on the left and domestic cat on the right:

1/ Dorsal stripe ends at the base of the spine
2/ Blunt black tip to the tail
3/ Thick, distinctly banded tail
4/ 7-11 clean, unbroken stripes to the body
5/ Striped rump, 4-7 stripes on rear legs
6/ 4 distinct, wavy, radiating lines over head and neck
7/ 2 clean stripes on shoulder blades

And additional details: each foreleg should have 2-3 bands, the mouth should be light brown not white, there should be 3 stipes on each cheek, two of which fuse together, a red colouring to the backs of the ears and finally, distinct spots on the belly.

Hybrids will display a mixture of the two sets of markings, though some will have some features perfect and others incorrect. So far as we know at present hybrid markings are something of a random genetic selection rather than following any distinct pattern. Typically though, a hybrid tail is thick but tapers to a point, a dorsal stripe often appears on the base half of the tail or the bands are imperfect and beginning to form a dorsal stripe, body stripes will be broken up with occasional spots and the mouth is usually white with a small white chest flash.

Practicality

This is quite a list to remember, especially when most sightings are extremely brief and at distance, however knowing just a couple of key things to look out for can greatly aid in identifying whether you are looking at a Scottish wildcat or a hybrid. There are two primary features to focus on: the tail and the markings on the sides of the body, these two things alone can identify almost all cases of hybridisation.

Pure wildcats have a very thick tail marked with distinctive bands and a blunt ended all black tail tip. Hybrids and ferals have much slimmer tails which taper to a point and the bands on the tail are often partly joined together by a dorsal stripe running off of the spine, or by the bands “fattening” where a dorsal stripe should be.

Markings on the flanks should be long, distinct, unbroken stripes. Hybrids and ferals display a range of stripes, spots and other broken up shapes in their markings, wildcats are always exclusively striped, though sometimes their rump can appear a little spotty from the thickness of the fur.

Secondary features to look out for are the mouth shape and colour: wildcats have oversized and very square looking jaws and light brown fur around their mouth. Hybrids can often have similar shaped jaws but usually have white fur around their mouth, and occasionally white flashes on their chest. Pure Scottish wildcats never have white fur.

Precise identification uses far more coat markings (some of which are explored in detail in our Scottish wildcat articles) and genetic identification uses even more genetic markers, but this handful of features, especially the primary tail and body markings, are by far the best to look for when in the field as they can often be distinguished quickly and at distance.

Examples of Scottish wildcat hybrid

Cat5

Cat5 White mouth and white chest flash on a cat filmed by Coffee Films, and badly broken up stripes with a slightly tapering tail from the Cairngorms Wildcat Project / Highland Tiger identify both of these as hybridised cats.

Cat6

This cat by Laurie Campbell is still hybridised, but a much closer match for the real thing: the thick, blunt tipped, banded tail is good, the body striping is decent, the mouth is brown and there is no white chest flash.

Cat7

A very near miss from Kerry Kilshaw at Oxford WildCRU, mouth colouring is uncertain with the flash, and the tail stripes are a little confused, but it has some excellent markings across the rest of the body.

Report a sighting
If you still think what you saw was a wildcat, or something close to it, we’d love to hear from you, and we’d also love to have sightings of feral cats reported to us from within the Wildcat Haven region. Please e-mail any sightings, attaching any photos and any details you can remember about the cat and location to:
[email protected]

Your name, email address and all details provided to us will be held in perpetuity on a database maintained by Wildcat Haven and utilised for identifying areas with potential for pure wildcats. The data will be shared with legitimate research efforts benefitting wildcats by recognised experts and organisations who commit to respecting data protection and privacy laws in their use of the database.

 

Thank you!