Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kitty cat makes pur-rr-fect Highland tiger

Staff at the Highland Wildlife Park are celebrating the arrival of a new wildcat kitten. Born on 3 May 2010 and now on show, the kitten was the only one born to mum Seasaidh and is still to be sexed and named.

One of 12 wildcats at HWP, the Scottish wildcat is now one of Britain's rarest mammals and is in serious danger of extinction. As the only remaining native feline, the arrival of a new kitten is an important boost to captive populations as well as a beautiful new addition for visitors to see.

As Douglas Richardson, Animal Collection Manager at the Highland Wildlife Park, said: “From latest estimates, the Highland tiger - as the Scottish wildcat is also known - is more rare than some of its larger cousins such as the Amur tiger that can also be seen here. Historically they were hunted for fur and killed as vermin but more recently disease and vehicle collisions have also taken their toll. However, the greatest risk they face is interbreeding with domestic cats; extinction by dilution. The remote Highlands provide a last refuge for this endangered cat that once occurred throughout the Britain.”

At first glance, wildcats may look similar to a domestic cat, but there are several differences. The wide, flat head, ears pointing more sideways, a bushy blunt-ended tail encircled with dark rings, and a distinctly striped coat all distinguish the true wildcat from feral and pet cats. Genetically they are also different. Mating occurs during February and 2-6 kittens are born approximately ten weeks later. The family breaks up after about 5 months, when the young leave to establish their own territiories.

Bursting with animals to see, including Mercedes the polar bear who remains a firm favourite, HWP has also recently invested in a new play park for children. Situated by the Polar Express kiosk, the park has swings, a rope walk and slides. In addition, this summer and included in the standard day ticket (on a first come, first served basis) is the option for visitors to jump on board and enjoy a free Land Rover tour of the park with an expert guide on hand.

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