Scotland’s Wild(cat) Side

By Cecily Morgan

Scotland may be famous for its tartan and whisky but there’s something even more wondrous lurking in its woodland – the Scottish wildcat. Sometimes known as the Highlands Tiger, this wildcat is a subspecies of the European wildcat and the last predatory mammal still living on British soil. Long extinct in England and Wales, the wildcat can now only be found in the woodland and shrubland of the Scottish Highlands, but the population is decreasing, with fewer than 100 of them left roaming the wilderness. 

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Although they resemble an everyday tabby at first glance, Scottish wildcats differ wildly. As well as being 25% larger, they have thicker skulls, coarser fur, and blunter tails than domestic cats and although they purr, they don’t meow. In fact, their behaviour is more akin to that of a lion or tiger than a pet and, even if raised by humans from infancy, their predatory spirit remains untamable. They are thus thought to be the only untameable animals in the world. When speaking of these creatures, wildlife journalist Mike Tomkies stated: "They'll fight to the death for their freedom; they epitomise what it takes to be truly free." So, whilst they are undeniably adorable, you wouldn’t want one of these slinking through your cat flap.

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The wildcat’s dwindling population is heartbreaking news for Scotland, and the world, as their presence brings a whisker of magic to the Scottish landscape. The traditional icon of the Scottish wilderness, it is thought to be the inspiration behind the Cat sìth, a feline fairy creature from Celtic mythology. According to a legend, the Cat sìth could switch between a witch and a cat nine times, paving the way for the idea that a cat has nine lives.

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However, these wildcats are fighters. Just last month, a pair of Scottish wildcat kittens was discovered, sparking fresh hope for the survival of the species and in March, a large Scottish wildcat was captured on camera in an Aberdeenshire forest. This is great news for the population and, alongside the work of Wildcat Haven, a Highland-based fieldwork project that works to protect the Scottish wildcat, it seems that the Scottish wildcat’s future is looking optimistic. Maybe the species really does have nine lives.