CONSERVATIONISTS warn there may be no “pure bred” wildcats left in Scotland.
The Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) group said current numbers of the animal in the wild may be as low as 100 and there might even be none with “no domestic ancestry.”
The critically endangered species has been declining in numbers and is facing extinction.
The iconic wildcat is Britain’s last native cat species and is fully protected by law.
However, the biggest threat they face is from breeding with their domestic counterparts.
The SWA have raised concerns that the species may have reached the point where there are no pure bred wildcats left.
A spokesman for the SWA said: “We may already be at a point where no cats exist which have ‘zero’ domestic ancestry of some kind.
“Some of the cats show evidence of only very little domestic cat in their ancestry, based on pelage (the scoring system created by Dr Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland) and genetic assessment.”
The group feel the best plan to stop the wildcat from disappearing is for the owners of domesticated cats to have them vaccinated and neutered.
The SWA is a five year project that was set up in 2015 to stop the extinction of the wildcat.
A spokesman for the SWA said: “From an animal welfare point of view it’s not unreasonable for everyone to ensure their cat is neutered and vaccinated.
“If anyone is struggling with the cost of this then we may be able to help. If someone lives within a wildcat priority area – Strathbogie, Strathpeffer, Angus Glens, Northern Strathspey and Morvern.
“If you live outside a priority area then other animal welfare organisations may be able to help.”
The biggest challenge facing the wildcat is its hybridisation with feral cats. The spokesman added: “The first thing for us is to ensure we trap, vaccinate, neuter and return as many of those feral or farm cats living in one of our five wildcat priority areas as possible.
“It is important we ‘turn off the tap,’ by neutering. It’s important to stop new domestic cats coming into the wild from households and farms.”
Over the summer, the SWA managed to successfully trap over 100 feral cats and neuter them.
The number of wildcats currently in Scotland is unknown but the SWA’s best estimate is between 100 and 300.
However, they have urged that the number may be lower, adding: “It is quite possible the number of wildcats living in Scotland is so low they will not be able to survive on their own.
“At some point, the wild population is going to need to be supplemented by cats from the Conservation Breeding Programme, run by Royal Zoological Society for Scotland (RZSS).”
The wildcat is an important part of Scottish heritage and the SWA would hate to see it go: “The Scottish wildcat is an iconic species and historically clans fought with coats of arms branded with the image of the wildcat.
“They are the stuff of legends and were spoken about by the earliest settlers. The Scottish wildcat it is an important component of a functioning ecosystem.”
The elusive creature can also represent an enticing tourism opportunity and that the wildcat could help boost the economy. The SWA added: “It’s important for Scotland to show the world that it values its unique and rare wildlife.
“It is an animal close to people’s hearts and people simply don’t want to see it disappear from our shores.
“Just because this animal is elusive and we don’t see it very often, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to protect and preserve a native species.”
Scottish wildcats are vicious carnivores who can kill rodets, rabbits or hare in seconds.
Males often grow to the size of medium sized dogs and can weight up to 8kg.