Choose a Webcam
Animals & Attractions

Scottish Wildcat

In our collection

We currently have a small number of Scottish wildcats in our collection.

Where to find them

Our cats in the Park can often be found on a tree branch, in the aerial walkway or in one of the stone cairns in the Woodland Walk area.

They are fed mainly on rabbit. The rabbits' furry skin is left on to provide roughage and interest, with extra 'carnivore' vitamins added for health. As meat eaters, wildcats spend long hours sleeping and digesting their food during the day.

Daily Talk

Don't miss our daily keeper talk and feed at 1:45pm

Support RZSS - Adopt a snow leopard

Find out more

Status

  • DD
    DATA DEFICIENT
  • lc
    LEAST CONCERN
  • nt
    NEAR THREATENED
  • VU
    VULNERABLE
  • EN
    ENDANGERED
  • CR
    CRITICALLY ENDANGERED
  • EW
    EXTINCT IN THE WILD
for more information on classifications visit www.iucnredlist.org

Size

Size text here

Population

Of conservation concern in Scotland

Habitat

  • Forest and woodlands

    Forest and woodlands

Diet

In The Wild

At first glance, Scottish wildcats (Felis silvestris) may look similar to a pet cat, but on closer inspection there are differences. The wide, flat head, ears pointing more sideways, a bushy blunt-ended tail encircled with dark rings, and a distinctly striped coat all distinguish the true wildcat from feral cats. Research has also revealed differences in their genetic make-up, gut length and skull features.

Unlike the domestic cat, the wildcat is a seasonal breeder. The ancestors of our domestic pet cat were the Middle Eastern wildcat. After centuries of evolution and human selection, the domestic cat today is considered a separate species, Felis catus. In Britain, the pet cat arrived with the Romans or the Phoenicians. Today, there are many domestic cats that have 'gone wild'. These feral cats can interbreed with the Scottish wildcat, and produce fertile hybrid cats. Such cross breeding is the primary risk to the future survival of the Scottish wildcat at risk.

The Latin name for the wildcat, Felis silvestris means 'forest cat'. Since forests first covered the land, the wildcat has lived in Britain, however human persecution and habitat destruction led to its extinction in England, Wales and southern Scotland by 1880. The remote Highlands provided a last refuge for this threatened cat.

The Scottish wildcat is now fully protected by law and is generally recognised as a separate subspecies, Felis silvestris grampia, confined to the Central and Northern Highlands of mainland Scotland. Their preferred habitat is upland forest with young trees, moorland, scrub and hill ground where they can lie up during the day in a den among rocky cairns, old fox earths, badger setts, or among tree roots. The wildcat is a useful predator of pests such as rabbits and rodents and will also eat birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects and may scavenge fresh road casualties.

Relatively solitary and territorial, the wildcat is active at night particularly around dawn and dusk. Territory is marked out by urine and droppings, and by scratches on tree trunks. The male's home range overlaps that of the female and young males may be nomadic until they establish their own territories. Mating occurs during February and 2-6 kittens are born approximately 68 days later. The family breaks up after about 5 months, when the young leave to establish their own home range.

Scottish Wildcats at the Park

Scottish Wildcat Action

Scottish wildcats are now probably Britain's rarest mammal and are in serious danger of extinction. Aptly named as the "Highland Tiger" in an important project set up to assess and monitor their status in the Cairngorms, it is thought that there may be as few as 400 left - making them rarer than the Amur tiger! The Cairngorm project, which finished in 2012, was the model for the current national effort called Scottish Wildcat Action.

The Scottish Wildcat has been identified in Scotland's Species Action Framework (SAF) as "a species requiring targeted management action to improve prospects for its future survival as a distinct native species."

Click here for more information on this vital project, and the important work being carried out by Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Meet the Scottish wildcat