Scottish Wildcat Project

Scottish Wildcat Project

Project Animal(s) : Scottish wildcat
Project Category : Mammals
Project Region : Europe
Project Type : Conservation
Project URL :
Project is timebound? : No

The Scottish wildcat is Britain’s only native felid and once widespread across Britain, the wildcat is now restricted to northern Scotland owing to a variety of factors including habitat loss, persecution and hybridization with the domestic cat. Extensive hybridization with the domestic cat is thought to be one of the main threats facing this species and has resulted in difficulties in distinguishing wildcats from wildcat x domestic cat hybrids and feral tabby domestic cats. The lack of clear cut identification has resulted in problems with collecting ecological data on genetically pure wildcats as well as problems in enforcing conservation legislation, yet the mechanisms of hybridization and extent of introgression are poorly understood. There is a real risk that hybridization will result in the genetic extinction of the Scottish wildcat.

As few as 400 individuals are estimated to remain in the wild, although this estimate was based on extrapolation of the percentage of museum skins that were found to have the wildcat pelage onto another population estimate. As a result, the actual number of wildcats currently remaining is unknown and if fewer than 400 genetically pure individuals are found to remain then the Scottish wildcat would be classified as Critically Endangered. In addition, comparable baseline data on its distribution and densities in different regions of the Scottish highlands, essential for developing practical conservation management plans, is generally lacking for the Scottish wildcat because of the complications associated with hybridization.

Much of WildCRU’s research in the past has focused primarily on how best to identify the Scottish wildcat with detailed research being carried out on ecological behavioural differences (Dr. Mike Daniels), examination of evolution and morphological differences including skull and bone length (Dr. Nobby Yamaguchi) and genetic differences (Dr. Mike Daniels and Dr. Carlos Driscoll). The results of this work led to the production of an Action Plan for conservation of the Scottish wildcat in 2004.

With the development of a pelage identification tool by Dr. Andrew Kitchener at the National Museums Scotland in collaboration with WildCRU and ongoing development in genetics, new methods have evolved allowing more detailed studies to be carried out on distribution and ecology of the Scottish wildcat. This has been aided by recent technological developments in wildlife research including the use of camera trapping which have shown to be more successful than previous methods (road traffic accident surveys, interviews and questionnaires and live trapping) at detecting wildcats in the field. WildCRU’s most recent research has involved the use of extensive camera trap surveys (Dr. Kerry Kilshaw) to look at the current distribution and densities of local wild-living cat population. The widespread camera trap surveys confirmed that hybrids preferred much of the same habitat as wildcats and overlapped in their distribution pattern with both feral domestic cats and wildcats, supporting recent suggestions that the hybridization threat posed by hybrids is exacerbated by their acting as a bridge between wildcats and feral domestic cats. Camera trapping also produced a more updated population size of 167-311 individuals depending on local densities and home range size. Based on these data, the Scottish wildcat should have its current status of Least Concern reviewed. Dr. Roo Campbell has also recently utilised GPS collars to look at the spatial ecology of wild-living cats in northern Scotland (

In 2013, the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan (SWCAP) was launched as a concerted national effort led by Scottish Natural Heritage to preserve and expand both the numbers and geographic range of the remaining Scottish wildcats. As a partner in the Action Plan, WildCRU’s current project aims to contribute to our understanding of wildcat ecology and behaviour and how this can affect their conservation management.

Current Project

WildCRU’s current project on the Scottish wildcat is led by Dr. Kerry Kilshaw and looks at the basic ecology of the wildcat and the role GPS collars can play in adaptive conservation management of the Scottish wildcat.

Project Agency : Wildlife Conservation Research Unit(WildCRU)

Project Agency Contact :

Project Researcher : Dr Kerry Kilshaw

Project Researcher Contact :

Additional Information :

Senn, H., Ghazali, M., Kaden, J., Barclay, D., Harrower, B., Campbell, R. D., Macdonald, D. W., and Kitchener, A. C. 2018 Distinguishing the victim from the threat: SNP-based methods reveal the extent of introgressive hybridisation between wildcats and domestic cats in Scotland and inform future in-situ and ex-situ management options for species restoration. Evolutionary Applications, 10.1111/eva.12720.