A CONSERVATION project based in the Highlands is working to save the European wildcat species from extinction.

The Saving Wildlife project, primarily based in the RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, aims to recover the species through an in-house breeding programme.

Wildcats are paired together in breeding locations in a secret location in the park, with the hope that any kittens born can eventually be released into the wild.

READ MORE: Scotch whisky exports bring in billions following 'hugely successful year'

The project is currently overseeing 16 wildcats in pre-release enclosures, 13 of which are kittens born last year.

A team of experienced keepers and scientists look after the wildcats, encouraging them to exhibit natural behaviours such as hunting and pouncing.

@scotnational We could soon be seeing wildcat kittens 🐾😻 #scotland #wildcat #cat #animals ♬ original sound - The National

Yet human interaction remains minimal to protect the wildcats from seeking humans when they are released into the wild.

The team have a solution to this limited contact– an advanced monitoring centre which allows them to analyse behaviours and even to feed the wildcats remotely.

The National was able to gain access to this monitoring centre to learn more about the project.


Cameras, cameras and more cameras

The main room is reminiscent of a top-level security base – every inch of the recovery project is covered by advanced cameras which allow the team to monitor the wildcats from a distance.

The National: The team can access the footage from cameras in real-time and can even move the angles of the camera by moving a joystick.

There are more than 70 cameras placed in the breeding and pre-release enclosures, which work both day and night to monitor the wildcats’ activity.

The cameras help the team to see whether the wildcats are exhibiting natural behaviours and to ensure they are eating.

The National:

The team also told us the first time they get to see any kittens that have been born is usually through the cameras. 

While we were there, the team were able to find a male adult wildcat sleeping – something that they can do for up to 18 hours a day.

The National: The cameras also help the team to deliver life-saving healthcare without the need for physical interaction.

The team can send footage from the cameras to the local vet, who is then able to make an assessment over any injuries or symptoms the wildcat is displaying.

There are also remote feeders placed inside the enclosures, which the team can activate from a distance.

READ MORE: Scottish salmon named UK's top food export for 2023

The feeders mimic the sound of the food inside, replicating a natural hunting environment for the wildcats.

The wildcats are also able to practice hunting by catching any mice or vole that find their way naturally into the enclosure.


The future of wildcats

The European wildcat is the last wild feline living in Britain. The species is critically endangered, with around 150 estimated to be in captivity across the UK.

The Saving Wildcats project, expected to run until at least 2026, is led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) in collaboration with Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry and Land Scotland, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Nordens Art (Sweden) and Junda de Andalucia (Spain).

The project hopes to release more wildcats into the wild this summer, with breeding season already underway.

In a post on Twitter/X, the project explained the process for the release of wildcats.

The post explores a timeline from when breeding pairs are introduced to when kittens are eventually released.

You can track the progress of the Saving Wildcats Project here.