It has been a record breeding year for critically endangered wildcats.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) – which runs Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park – reported that 57 wildcat kittens were born within the UK conservation breeding programme throughout 2020.
In total, 22 litters were welcomed across ten of the many zoos, wildlife parks and private collections working with the wildlife conservation charity.
Following habitat loss, persecution and breeding with domestic cats, wildcats are on the brink of extinction in Britain.
RZSS has managed the captive population since 2015.
It is also leading a new partnership project, Saving Wildcats, which aims to secure a future for the Highland tiger by breeding the species and releasing them into the wild.
David Barclay, Saving Wildcats ex-situ conservation manager and coordinator of the UK conservation breeding programme, said: “Wildcats are one of Britain’s rarest and most endangered mammals which means every one of these kittens is a potential lifeline.
“Over the last few years, the members of the wildcat breeding programme have demonstrated the immense value in working together to secure a future for this iconic species.”
As part of the Saving Wildcats project, a dedicated conservation breeding for release centre is being built at Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore.
The centre will provide facilities for breeding, veterinary care, remote monitoring and training to prepare the cats for life in the wild, with the goal of releasing the first cats in 2022.
Mr Barclay added: “It has been a challenging year but we are really excited to be bringing together all the necessary resources and expertise to save Scotland’s wildcats, and we are incredibly grateful to everyone making this vital work possible.”
To donate to help save the country’s wildcats, click here.