A GROUP of recently released wildcats in Scotland appear to have developed a taste for chicken.

Speaking on the NatureScot podcast one of the scientists involved in the recent reintroduction of 19 wildcats into the Cairngorms said some of the felines had been predating on poultry.

Dr Keri Langridge, field manager for the Saving Wildcats Partnership led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said researchers had been pleasantly surprised with how the cats were faring since their release.

“They’ve done a lot better than I think anybody was expecting,” she said.

“These kinds of projects come with a very high mortality risk. It's just the nature of the beast.

“So, we were expecting high mortality, particularly from roads. With the best will in the world, there are roads throughout this relief site. We have the A9, which is the biggest road in northern Scotland.

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“But so far, despite the cats walking up and down the roads, crossing the roads frequently, we haven't had any road mortality.”

However, Landridge added that the cats had come into conflict with other land uses.

“Their main other threats are going to come from land use, so threats from particularly estates that rear game birds for shooting, because they do predator control.

“And what we need to make sure is that while they're doing that predator control, they don't accidentally kill any of the wildcats.

“Cats have come into conflict in areas where pheasants are bred in pheasant pens and then we engage with the estates and we work together very closely with them to look at the impact the cats are having and how we can mitigate some of those problems.

“And we have had instances of cats predating chickens.

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“We have to engage with the people where that's happening and try to give them some advice about how to prevent it.

“But ultimately the cats are now wild animals so they're going to behave like wild animals. We can't control them. We can just monitor what they do and try and help where we can.”

The Saving Wildcats Partnership is aiming to re-establish a viable breeding wildcat population in Scotland after it was discovered that the population had dropped below sustainable levels.

A recent study found that Scotland’s wildcat population is “genomically extinct” due to extensive interbreeding with domestic cats.

However, the authors of the study noted that reconstructing the ancestral wildcat genome is “theoretically feasible” but would likely necessitate the breeding of Scottish wildcats with wildcats from continental Europe