'Wildcat kittens' filmed in Cairngorms

By Kevin Keane
BBC Scotland's environment correspondent

media captionEstimates suggest there are between 100 and 300 left in Scotland.

A hillwalker has filmed what appeared to be three wildcat kittens while strolling in the Cairngorms.

Chris Usher was walking near Lochnagar in Aberdeenshire when he spotted the litter of young cats sitting on boulders.

He retreated to a safe distance, where he was able to set up his camera and capture the footage.

Scottish Wildcat Action described it as "fantastic footage" which appeared to show genuine wildcat kittens.

Wildcats are solitary animals which are rarely spotted by members of the public.

'Something special'

Mr Usher, from Edinburgh, told BBC Scotland: "I was going across a boulder field, being quite careful with where I was going because there were a lot of drops down. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something move and instinctively I thought it was a tail.

"It was the wee one first that I saw and that gave me time to put down my bag, take out my camera, start filming it and zooming in. It didn't want to move so it was great.

"I changed course, going off further to the left to keep well out of their way. I looked round after another 10 minutes or so and found that they were still watching me.

"At the time I thought there were two, but then going back over the footage in slow motion I found a third one just poking out - and there may have been more there as well.

"At the time it didn't really sink in, and by the time I got home I thought: 'Wow, that's actually something special'."

image copyrightChris Usher

Estimates suggest there are between 100 and 300 wildcats left in Scotland.

Mothers usually have between two and four kittens in a litter.

They are under considerable threat from cross-breeding with domestic cats.

Their purity is assessed through a 21 point scoring system examining their physical characteristics.

'Looks promising'

Roo Campbell, project manager with Scottish Wildcat Action, said: "While it's difficult to assess kittens from coat marking, the most visible kitten on each of the two videos certainly looks promising. For example, good nape stripes and a thickened tail. They are possibly wildcat kittens.

"The second video also momentarily shows a third cat - I think another kitten - and I get a very brief view of its rump.

"From that I can see the cat shows more blotchy tabby markings which is a clear sign of some domestic cat ancestry. So the third kitten is a hybrid.

"Because cats can have multiple fathers in a single litter, this doesn't automatically mean that the other kittens also have significant domestic ancestry, though it is possible.

"It perfectly illustrates the situation that wildcats are facing however, where highly hybridised individuals are found throughout the population."