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Autumnwatch: Ask Liz Bonnin a question

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Jeremy Torrance web producer Jeremy Torrance web producer | 11:12 UK time, Friday, 8 October 2010

You might well know Liz Bonnin as one of the quartet of presenters on Bang Goes The Theory, BBC One’s science-debunking show. But what is less well known is Liz’s fascination with wildlife, especially her passion for exploring the secretive world of the big cat.

This Autumnwatch, Liz joins us in the search of one of our own wildcat families in the heart of the Cairngorms. She’ll be looking at the efforts to conserve one of Britain's rarest mammals. There are believed to be as few as 400 individuals, known as ‘highland tigers’, left in the wild.

Liz with Jess the sniffer dog

She’ll also be on Unsprung to answer the best of your questions. So is there anything you've always wanted to know about wild cats, Britain’s only remaining native feline? Have you had a close encounter with one? What would you like to ask Liz?

The wild cat is distinguished from feral domestic cats by its wide head, sideways pointing ears, blunt-ended tail and distinctively striped coat. Mainly active around dawn and dusk, these feline predators prefer a solitary existence. It’s a real challenge for the team to track these elusive animals.

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Liz’s experience of tracking tigers in Nepal (while taking a Masters degree in wild animal biology and conservation) will surely help the team pick up the trail of these mini big cats.

Her love of nature has seen her get up close and personal with compound eyes in flies, visit a brown pelican rescue centre in the Gulf of Mexico, follow herds of burping cows and even eat locust or two all in the name of science.

But she’s not your average scientist. French-born but Dublin breed, Liz has also presented Top Of The Pops, RI:SE (Channel 4) and Science Friction (Irish RTE). When not working to a busy production schedule, she can be found working on one of the Zoological Society of London’s conservation programmes to help big cats including snow leopards, lions and cheetahs.

Was Liz successful in her challenge? If you missed it last night watch Autumnwatch on iPlayer to find out. In the meantime, post your wild cat questions for Liz below.

Update 15 October: Thanks for all your great wildcat questions. Liz is working through them as we speak and will answer the best very soon. Just a note to say that if you post any more we can't promise they'll be answered. You could always try the messageboard.


  • Comment number 1.

    I hear that one can see the wild cats on a remote beach on the Black Isle and especially on the cliffs above said beach. Of course if one has great paitence! Have you been there too? Cheers... Martyn

  • Comment number 2.

    I want to ask a question; not sure where to do it, hope this is o.k. I have been wondering about the huge number of berries, fruit etc this year. Why is there so much, is it because of the weather conditions earlier in the year, do insects/pollination have something to do with it, if so does it mean there are more bees this year; or is it because we are going to have a cold winter and if so, how does the biology/science work ie anticipation of a cold winter in Spring/summer/autumn?

  • Comment number 3.

    Where have all the Seagulls gone. In Swindon 3 weeks ago they all vanished overnight. The same In Stroud.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Liz!
    Im a great fan of yours and think the "Bang goes the thoery" is brilliant! Iam also in awe of the big cats around the world, and I wanted to ask a question; having read and watched many programmes and books about cheetahs, I understand that they are increasingly under threat from humans enroaching in on thier land and that thier numbers have dropped dramatically, what is needed to ensure thier safety for the future?
    Also, the BBCs "lost lands of the tiger" was fantastic, and wanted to ask you whether or not you think that the project to create a tiger corridor will be successful or not.
    Many thanks and good luck with you challenge!

  • Comment number 5.

    Hello Liz and all the team! I hope you were successful in your mission to find the 'Highland Tiger'. My question is: What kind of things are being done to stop domestic cats from breeding with the wildcats and how big of a problem is this for the wild population?

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Liz - I only asked yesterday on the Message board whether AW would do a section on these amazing cats. I'm so pleased you'll be on the show to cover the Scottish Wildcat!

    I’ve heard that there have been sightings of the Scottish Wildcat on the Isle of Mull. Considering this is an island would it be easier to protect the cat here from its biggest threat - breeding with pet moggies. Would it be possible to set up a programme by bringing the cats to the island (or on another suitable island) and implementing the strict neutering rule on domestic cats? Would this be practical; obviously it would be a major operation and many things would have to be considered but I thought I’d ask your opinions on it.


    PS: I remember you when you used to be on The Den ;) Onwards and upwards!

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Liz,
    Just wondering: Can wild cats swim?, or are they like domestic cats, which seem to hate it.
    alex berryman
    age 13

  • Comment number 8.

    I have a 7 foot hedge outside my house. This moring I found a spiders web on the top of the hedge with one end anchored to a telephone wire running from a telegraph pole to my house. The wire is about 30 feet above the ground. The spider must have climbed to the wire, walked along it and dropped down to make the web. Are spiders clever enough to look at the wire and think 'if I climb up there, I can drop down to that hedge and make a nice web', or is it likely to be a fortunate accident that it found itself in that situation?

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi Liz,
    I notice you are doing a feature on Scottish wildcats and you have an interest in 'Cats'. Will you be doing any research - filming on the growing reports of Loose Big cats in the UK?
    There are too many reported sightings for there to be an arguement against them being now a native species.
    Your tracking in Nepal will show how elusive these cats are but surely there is a way of remote filming in 'hotspots'.
    Will be following your Scottish 'adventure' with interest.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Liz

    i hope you found some 'tigers' as i'm a member of the wildcat association, but i've only ever seen them in a zoo (a shot i took of one is on the wildcat website).

    They are known as Scottish Wildcats, but is there any evidence that they might also be in other parts of the UK? i seem to remember that they were once wider spread, but as they are so elusive, could they still be around - and possibly a clue to the large cat sightings?

    looking forward to the show

  • Comment number 11.

    Now that we have a multi-agency defence strategy for the conservation of the scottish wildcat, will it be enough to stop the very real threat to our wild population from disease , such as feline leukemia and flu, as the genetically pure wild population have little or no immunity? P.s, Would it be possible to put all the links on your website i.e. Cairngorms Highland Tiger Project , Scottish Wildcat Association , The Aspinal Foundation , etc, to promote more support for the valued Conservation that is being achieved.

  • Comment number 12.

    Great pictures from the Cairngorms with the wildcat Liz, but can you clarify whether or not all wildcats and their chosen habitat are equally protected under either UK or EU Law?

    I live outside the CNP, but we have wildcats in our area here (seen by numerous local folk), and just would like to know whether or not their area should be afforded protection, or not!

    It would seem a great shame that only the Wildcats found within the current National Parks Boundary areas were protected, and not the rest, irrespective of where they live, given there are so few left. The Huntly and surrounding forest areas have been home to the wildcats for many years, and I would like to htink they'll be protected (and their preferred haunts) for the benefit of the Nation as a whole, and not just in the National Parks.

    Keep up the great work!

  • Comment number 13.

    Are wildcats found as far south as Oxfordshire? Also how big do they get? My friend and I got a glimpse of a surprisingly big cat on a tiny back road about 10pm a few nights ago. It was definitely a cat (not a fox for example) and it was yellowy (didn't see the head or the details of the fur on the body, but did see the size, general colour and the loping feline gait), and got a good look at the long furry feline yellow and black ringed tail. Gorgeous!

  • Comment number 14.

    what do you think of wildcats and do you think there scared of humans

  • Comment number 15.

    Hi Liz,

    I love how you combine your wildlife conservation research and television presenting. When and how did you get your big break on tv? Was it because of your expertise in certain fields of science?

  • Comment number 16.

    Great to see you are featuring the Scottish Wildcat in tonight's program. I have been lucky enough to see and photograph a habituated "wild" wildcat in the Cairngorms - FANTASTIC is all I can say.

    David knows of my interest as I ran the BUPA London 10k earlier this year dressed as a "wildcat" to raise money for the Highland Tiger Project.

    Keep up the good work both on the project and the program.

  • Comment number 17.

    hi liz
    how long do wildcats live for
    Tom red kite

  • Comment number 18.

    I saw a wildcat when I was young in the summer 1976. I was in the Cairngorms with my family. My father crested a hill in our car and ahead in the middle of the B road was a shape crouching over a road kill sheep. My father reversed the car back over the crest of the hill and we got out of our car and walked to where we could just see over the top of the hill. The shape was a large tabby cat, it looked at us from about 50 meters away and calmly picked up the sheep by the scruff of the neck and dragged it from the road into the heather/gorse scrub. It seemed no effort to the cat and we seemed not to be a particular concern to it.
    Its a memory that has stayed with me very clearly all these years.

  • Comment number 19.

    At my school in St. Albans I have noticed many species of Gull Herring, Black Headed, Common Gulls etc.
    But yesterday I notice a Very, very large Gull; bigger than any others that I have seen.
    It had a large wingspan of over about 1.3m, grey wings and grey legs with a white underside with spots on it's black tail. At first I thought it might have been a Common Gull but it is far, far to big.
    Any Ideas?

  • Comment number 20.

    why is it that the wildcat is endangered is it due to hunting or is it due to lose of habitate?


  • Comment number 21.

    Hey Liz,
    I have a question, does the fur of wild cats such as the one's we have just seen, cought on camera on Autumn Watch get thicker in winter, and do they loose fur in summer as it is a bit hoter?

  • Comment number 22.

    We have two 4month old bengal tiger kittens that look VERY similar to the ones in your VT except ours have sleeker tails!!

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi there, we recently went on holiday to the Isle of Wight and saw on two seperate occasions a large cat (much larger than a domestic cat) with the very distinctive rings on it's tail (exactly as shown on your show). We were staying in a remote part of the Isle on a farm, surrounded by fields and woodland and the cat was sighted in the same place both times and very early in the morning. Are there wild cats on the Isle of Wight ? Many thanks.

  • Comment number 24.

    We adopted a cat many years ago when we lived in Scotland. After seeing your piece on the Scottish Wildcats, I'm convinced that our cat is part Wildcat. He has the bushy tail with thick black rings and a blunt end.
    Do you know how we would be able to confirm this??

  • Comment number 25.

    I loved the Wild Cat films but want to ask another question. Why do Owls hoot? Last evening at about 8pm I was out in the garden nd owls were hooting like anything, there must have been 4 or 5 different owls why would that be? I notmally hear 1 owl but have never heard quite so many in one go before.

  • Comment number 26.

    Ive just watch your wild cat story. That's not a wild cat that HAMISH my cat love's to strut about with his little friend's up on the rocks.

  • Comment number 27.

    can i ask if its possible for the 2 kittens to have differant fathers? As domestic cats being inducted ovulators allows this to happen.

  • Comment number 28.

    I have been lucky enough to see a Scottish wildcat, however, this was in capitivity at a rescue sanctuary on the East coast of England.
    As there has been a lot of talk of hybridisation, thought I would mention that one of my neighbour's down here in Lancashire has a large tabby cat, however, it is the same size as the wildcat that I saw and it has the characteristic markings on the tail as a wildcat. She also has the yellow eyes classic of ferral cats.
    This might possibly be a hybrid of further down the line who has maintained some of the characteristics. Either way, pretty exciting! Well done Liz on the shots, they were beautiful!

  • Comment number 29.

    Do all domestic cats have aq bit of wildcat in them? Do some have more than others? Do they even have any? Are there any signs on domestic cats to show they are a bit wildcat?


  • Comment number 30.

    Liz can bloodtests tell if a wildcat is hybrid or pure?

  • Comment number 31.

    Why go to the Cairgorms, stay at the Field Studies Centre, Kindrogan.

    We did and saw a beautiful wild cat, sorry Mr Packham a rare one up to us !!

  • Comment number 32.

    Hi I think the wild cats are beautiful and was interested to see the facial markings of the kittens. If you look at the faces of all domestic tabbies there markings form an M on their foreheads. The kitten in the footage did not have this which would suggest it may be a pure bred wild cat. Black squirrels are common in Essex so perhaps the colouration of the second kittens is melanistic as suggested.

    Ps. On all the footage of cats and other animals shot at night the eyes reflect white. I have a ginger neutered tom and his eyes reflect red. Is there any reason for this or is it that his record number at the vets of 666-07 should be cause for concern?????

  • Comment number 33.

    Hi there! I am british but moved to Holland and enjoy atching Spring/Autumnwatch

    I have a curiosity question. I just watched the footage of the wildcats kittens... and the pupils of the cats were not dilated but were slits! If this film was done via infra-red camera then surely it was pitch black dark outside.... so why is the pupil not completely dilated?

    Ps.. Like my Username? VladTheImpala? lol.. didya see what i did there? :p

  • Comment number 34.

    Just watched Liz Bonnin's feature about the Scottish Wildcat and can confirm that I have actually seen one in my garden. It was in June this year and the Wildcat was on the decking totally mesmerised by about 6 young rabbits. It watched them for about 5 mins and then followed them underneath the decking. The Wildcat was totally oblivious of my presence.

    Needless to say, we didn't see many of the young rabbits after that!

    I live in Sutherland, North East Scotland and my house is situated on moorland.....the perfect habitat for the Wildcat.

  • Comment number 35.

    I know a farmer who has seen wildcats in our corner of aberdeenshire a few times although when I spoke to him about them it was a few years ago, but there is no reason to say they are still on the hill now as no one knows they are there bar locals.One story was he saw a mother and kitten in the early morning and the mother jumped the fence in his field when she saw him and the kitten was really mad as it couldn't get over at first and it was in a right temper then it got over and they disappered up the hill.

  • Comment number 36.

    Hi I love the wild cats but how can you tell weather one is a male or a female????
    Please help thank you
    Nicola Maddox
    Age 13

  • Comment number 37.

    what a wonderful moment and excitment seeing possible wild cat kittens in the wild, does it matter if they are cross breeding this is how our planet and wildlife has evolved like ourselves. darwin got it right and to see this happening just goes to prove life will find a way to live on. thank you for a wonderful program and education, i love the program and all involved. having new challenges with new faces i think has made the B.B.C Autumn watch a great success.

  • Comment number 38.

    can the wildcat kittens' faecal matter or fur not be sampled for DNA analysis to determine the extent of hybridisation and is there a table to compare the degree of hybridisation in species susceptible to this?

  • Comment number 39.

    Liz! Come to Suffolk and see the wild cat in the field next to us. It has been seen here since May and looks magnificent!

  • Comment number 40.

    It is possible that a kindle of domestic kittens can have more than one sire. Is this possible for wild cats?

  • Comment number 41.

    Will we hear anymore of the wildcats in future episodes ?

  • Comment number 42.

    Fascinated by your research on Scottish Highlands Wildcats.
    You may be interested to know, when visiting Northern Ireland, that breeding pairs of these were imported during the building of Stormont Parliament building to combat rats. I believe they still live and breed in the shrubbery there.
    I worked at that time in Stormont House and recall that each litter had one black kitten. I caught a 3 month old gorgeous example for my wife. Eventually he became used to the house and I became his man. He slept on my shoulder. He stayed with us as a member of the family for eighteen years until developing a large growth on his liver and the vet had to put him down.I Have a picture if you would care to see it,however I do not seem to be able to post it on this blog.
    Best regards Ron Stewart

  • Comment number 43.

    Hi, what a fabulous programme last night, thanks. Our neighbours are away at the moment and their house alarm went off, being keyholders,we went to investigate and found in their utility a cat. It had got in through an old cat flap, they not longer have a cat, it got in but couldn't get out as it had locked itself. We took a photo of this beautiful creature and was hoping to be able to send it to you with this message but there doesn't seem to be an option for that. After watching your programme we think it looks like a wild cat. Can you let me know if its possible to send a photo to you. Thanks. Karen.

  • Comment number 44.

    Well done on last nights programme - it was great.

  • Comment number 45.

    hi all, many thanks for all your wonderful questions. Liz couldn't wait to answer them. You can read her fascinating responses here.

    Karen: if you post your pic in our photo group we can have a look.

  • Comment number 46.

    About this time last year we went on holiday to Scotland near Banchory. When venturing out one day we saw what looked like a wild cat kitten just wondering down the road. We stopped and were able to take a picture of it. Remarkably a few hours later when driving back again, the kitten was still wondering down the same road! Are you able to tell me if this was actually a wild cat that we spotted and if so where can i send you the picture? Thanks, Leanne.

  • Comment number 47.

    Don't know where to go to ask this question so hope you don't mind me asking you - where in North Yorkshire can I watch a Starling murmuration?
    I live in the Pickering, Ryedale area. Was at Sedgemore, Somerset, last Monday and hoped to see the Starlings dance. Just my luck that instead of gathering into a big cloud each flock dropped straight down into the reed bed.

  • Comment number 48.

    how do you send photos to the progrmme


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