The wildcat has to be one of the most elusive animals in Scotland.
The popular press is often full of stories of mystical felines prowling the countryside, attacking livestock and pets but the true wildcat is something different.
The stories in the papers, if true, might refer to wild felines released irresponsibly into the wild by their owners after the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was passed in 1976. The real wildcats are native to this country and used to be widespread throughout the UK.
Through hunting and eradication of their habitat, wildcat numbers have dwindled to the point that they are now only found in remote parts of Highland Scotland. Interbreeding with domestic cats has led to a dilution of the gene pool and a significant reduction in the numbers of true wildcats.
Scottish wildcats look like larger, more muscular versions of the domestic tabby cat; they have a club-like tail and a thick-set body. The wildcat is perfectly adapted to its environment and is a formidable predator.
Their favourite prey is rabbit but they hunt for other small mammals, birds and fish.
Where to see them?
Given that wildcats live in some of the most remote parts of Scotland, are beautifully camouflaged and are timid, solitary and mostly nocturnal, it is no surprise that very few people have seen them in the wild.
It is estimated that there are around only 400 pure wildcats in Scotland but significantly larger numbers of hybrid wildcats (the result of mating with domestic cats). With this in mind, it is extremely unlikely that most people will ever see a genuine Scottish wildcat in the wild.
As a result the best place to see a wildcat close up is at wildlife centres such as the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig, Inverness-shire.
When to see them?
You can see wildcats all year round at organised centres but in the wild the best time to try and catch sight of them is during the mating season (January to March) when they are most active.
Page first published on Friday 4th April 2008
Page last updated on Friday 17th October 2008