AN animal rescue group is pleading with authorities after a wildcat in its care was seized by police.

The Wildcat Haven had its cat Finlay taken away on Monday after police in Wales conducted a search of a property in Conwy County in the northwest of the country.

Police said the Scottish wildcat was reported as being a European Protected Species and that there was no licence for the animal.

However, Wildcat Haven, which has rehabilitated the cat for more than a year, said it was just weeks away from releasing it back into the central Scottish Highlands.

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Wildcat Haven has previously hit the headlines over a defamation suit against then Scottish Green Party MSP Andy Wightman – which the politician successfully defended himself in.

Wildcat Haven Enterprises (WHE) had taken action over blog posts by Wightman published in September 2015 and February 2016, which led to WHE attempting in 2017 to claim £750,000 in damages against the MSP.

In the ruling, Lord Clarke found that the author did not defame WHE and that his posts had not resulted in a loss of £750,000 to the organisation.

The group, which rescued Finlay from "near death", has said it now fears for the wildcat's safety.

A Wildcat Haven spokesperson said: “Finlay was found as an orphan, three weeks old, close to death.

“He was hypothermic, he was malnourished and he wouldn't have lasted much longer. It was during the storms in mid-October 2020.

“Since then he's undergone a process of rehabilitation and he's due to be released in the next six to eight weeks.”

The organisation claims that whoever alerted the police to the location of the cat submitted a “malicious report”.

The group said no licence is required to rehabilitate animals.

The National:

“There's never been any intention at all for Wildcat Haven to permanently hold Finlay,” the spokesperson said.

“In fact, we've publicly stated over the past 12 months that we're gearing up for his release. And he could not have been released any earlier because he had to experience his first winter outside.”

The Scottish wildcat remained in Wales to be rehabilitated because the group had a remote farm, the spokesperson said. They added that Scotland’s lack of a permanent rehabilitation centre and its right to roam laws were also factors.

The intention, the Wildcat Haven said, was always to release the animal back into the wild in Scotland.

The spokesperson also said that the group told no one outside its organisation of its location.

Wildcat Haven launched a Crowdfunder to fund Finlay's care, and posted pictures and videos online.

The Scottish wildcat is a critically endangered species that is rarer than the tiger. Once widespread among the UK, it's thought the pure Scottish wildcat population could have fallen below 100.

The spokesperson continued: “We need Finlay back as soon as possible. We think the police may have been misled by a malicious report.

“We hope we can get Finlay back as soon as possible and get a rehabilitation back on track.

“We have to be really careful on any location because of the risk of him getting stolen.”

Asked how the Wildcat Haven felt about Finlay being seized by police, the spokesperson said they were “utterly shocked and devastated and confused”.

They went on: “It was heartbreaking to see an animal that has been reared since three weeks old. Wildcat Havens saved that animal’s life. Finlay would be dead if it wasn’t for Wildcat Haven’s care and he would have no chance to return to the wild.

“He would have been condemned to a life in a zoo. We are trying to give him the chance of freedom that every single wildcat should have.”

The group claims the police did not give it a reason for why they were taking the cat and reiterated that it was never the intention to keep it.

Asked if the organisation believes it has committed an offence under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations Act 2017, the spokesperson said: “Absolutely not. We have saved the animal from certain death.

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“We have painstakingly rehabilitated him to the point of imminent release and that is absolutely within the legislation. And in fact, it's best practice.”

North Wales Police said: “On Monday, February 14, officers from the Rural Crime Team conducted a search at a property in the Conwy County area. During this search an animal, which is reported as being a European Protected Species, was seized. There is no licence held for that type of animal.

“North Wales Police are working with partners to ensure the animal is cared for, to confirm whether the animal is a protected species, and to investigate whether an offence under the habitat and species regulations 2017 has been committed.

"Anyone with information relating to this matter is encouraged to contact police quoting, 21000883036.”