7 min read

There Are Only 35 Of These Fierce Little Animals Left In The World

You'd be forgiven for mistaking a Scottish wildcat for an old, familiar friend.

At first glance, these felines have many of the markings of a common housecat. Only, in real life they're bigger, pack a trademark club-like tail - and are infinitely less common.

Save the Scottish Wildcat

The Scottish wildcat is one of the rarest animals on Earth. In fact, some reports peg the number of them left in the wild at around 35.

Think about it: There are 1,800 giant pandas in the world.

There are 100 Sumatran rhinos.

And 35 Scottish wildcats.

"I have lived here full-time for nearly 20 years and I think I have seen two cats in that time that I can confidently say were wildcats," Hugh Raven, who lives in an area of Scotland where the cats were once known to prowl, told the BBC.

Save the Scottish Wildcat

In the Scottish Highlands, where conservationists have been scrambling to save the remaining cats, six priority areas have been established. That's where groups like Scottish Wildcat Action and Wildcat Haven are focusing their efforts to save the "living embodiment of the wild, untameable Highland."

The difficulty in distinguishing between Scottish wildcats - entire research papers have been dedicated to the task - and their more common cousins may be part of the problem. Scotland's priority areas also happen to be home to cats who have long ago turned their back on civilization (or, more likely, have been shut out from civilization) and embraced the wild side.

Living alongside feral cats and barn cats has had a devastating impact on wildcats. The cats have been breeding and producing increasingly fewer Scottish offspring.

Ultimately, conservationists say, all that breeding could spell the end of the Scottish wildcat as a distinct subspecies of cat.

Then there's the modern plague they share, in part, with humans. Feline immunodeficiency virus, like HIV in humans, is a slow-acting virus that severely compromises a cat's immune system. It's common in feral cats, and has been found recently in hybrid cats in one of Scotland's wildcat priority areas.

There is no vaccine.

Save the Scottish Wildcat

A less subtle factor in the cat's disappearance from the Highlands? Wholesale hunting and shooting in the 19th century - an activity that saw them completely disappear from England and Wales.

Save the Scottish Wildcat

Then, of course, there's the usual bugbear invariably seen as a major contributor to the end-of-the-line for an animal.

Apathy.

Many of the cats breeding with their Scottish cousins hail from the homes of local residents. And many of those owners have not bothered to have their pets spayed or neutered.

Conservationists are doing their part. Under a program called Wildcat Haven, they're spaying and neutering feral cats across a 500-square-mile swathe of land.

Save the Scottish Wildcat

But it's humans who refuse to get their cats fixed who may end up breeding Scottish wildcats out of existence.

And that would be a tragedy for an animal so uniquely and intrinsically tied to Scotland's natural history. As conservation group Save the Scottish Wildcat notes on its website:

"No feral or farm cat, the wildcat is a true wild species of cat just like a tiger or leopard; it was here long before we were and long before the domestic cat had first been bred by ancient farmers. Infamously the only wild animal to be untameable, even when captive reared, and one of the most elusive creatures in the world."

Save the Scottish Wildcat

You don't have to be living in the Scottish Highlands to do everyone the service of having your pet spayed or neutered. Evidence of the ravages of out-of-control breeding are in brutal abundance everywhere. And most notably in animal shelters, often the end-of-the-line for victims of animal overpopulation.

You can also help support the Scottish wildcat through conservation groups like Save the Wildcats and Scottish Wildcat Action.