Wildcat kittens which will likely be released next year as part of a conservation project have been born at a wildlife park in the Highlands.
It is the second year running that kittens have been born in the Saving Wildcats conservation breeding project at Highland Wildlife Park in the Cairngorms.
The partnership has welcomed 11 kittens in four litters so far with the Saving Wildcats team hopeful for more births in coming weeks.
Led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), Saving Wildcats is working with national and international experts to restore Scotland’s critically endangered wildcat population by breeding and releasing them into the Cairngorms Connect area of the Cairngorms National Park while also taking action to mitigate threats faced in the wild.
The project has undertaken widespread engagement with local communities and drawn on global conservation and scientific expertise to further understanding of wildcat ecology and behaviour.
The first releases of kittens born in 2022 began in June this year.
David Barclay, Saving Wildcats conservation manager, said “Wildcats in Scotland are on the brink of extinction and these kittens will play an important role in securing a future for the species.
“We know there are 11 kittens from four litters so far and we hope there will be more born in the coming weeks. It is still early days for our new wildcat kittens who are vulnerable in their first weeks and months.
“Over the next year the wildcats will be prepared for the challenges of life in the wild. Once they are independent and no longer reliant on their mums, they will move into large pre-release enclosures designed to support natural development and reduce exposure to humans and disturbance.
“Everything we learn from the wildcat releases which have begun this year will help to inform the future releases and ensure they are as successful as possible.”
Four of the kittens have been born to mum Droma, four to mum Fruin, two to mum Fian and one to mum Torr.
Earlier this summer the Saving Wildcats project began releasing wildcats into the Cairngorms Connect landscape of the Cairngorms National Park following several years of intense preparation.
The project has worked closely with gamekeepers and landowners surrounding the release site and has been carrying out a Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return programme since 2022 to mitigate the threat posed to wildcats by interbreeding – also known as hybridisation – with domestic cats.
The project team is tracking these released wildcats via GPS-radio collars and will release further information about their movements once they have collected and analysed sufficient data.