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Feature Creature - Scottish Wildcat

Scottish Wildcat Scottish Wildcat Credits: Stewart McDonald

Essential facts

Scientific name: Felis silvestris

Other names: woodland cat, wildcat

Weight:  5-9kg (11-17lbs)

Amazing fact: The Scottish wildcat has exceptional night vision - around seven times better than our own!



A forest spirit & hidden species


Look back into the history of Scotland and there you’ll find the Scottish wildcat. A cat so fierce that its stories of defeating humans with their eighteen razor sharp retractable claws were told by the first people to arrive in Scotland, and before long, was worshipped as forest spirits. Centuries later, tribes joined together under the image of the wildcat, fighting wars for their land to be protected and independent. Today, scientists estimate that as little as 100 remain in the wild – a cat even rarer than the Bengal tiger.


No average kitty


When you first take a glance at the Scottish wildcat you might be fooled into thinking it’s nothing more than a domestic cat. But pay closer attention – its face is wider and flatter, its ears point more sideways and its bushy blunt-ended tail is decorated with dark rings. They don’t meow, their coats are thicker and stripier than your average kitty and some grow twice their size! These are incredibly tough species – cats able to survive Scotland’s harshest winters and hunt their own prey, all without the help of humans.


Night walkers


The wildcat is largely crepuscular– meaning that they are most active at night and sunrise when they will spend most of their time hunting. Eating only meat, the cat uses its excellent night vision, hearing and sensitive whiskers to detect food such as mice, rats, voles, rabbit and ground nesting birds. When it comes to hunting, these cats are no quitters; some spend up to 24 hours a day looking for food in the winter without a wink of sleep!


Saying hello with a piddle


Like most felines, Scottish wildcats are solitary (they travel alone), only coming together to mate or to raise their young. To communicate with one another, they’ll leave scents containing a message. This is often done by scratching and rubbing their cheeks against objects or urinating.


A disappearing legend


Once found across the British mainland, tragically, this critically endangered species is now only found in the Scottish Highlands. Reasons for decline include habitat loss due to deforestation, human persecution, cross-mating and catching diseases from pet cats.


Although you might be used to helping kitties by leaving out food and giving them a warm place to live, the Scottish wildcat needs help of a different kind. You can do your bit by letting people know that the wildcat is in trouble - so tell your friends and family about their decline! Also neutering and vaccinating your pet cat is a big help!  


Find out more about the Scottish wildcat


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Article by Emma Websdale