Efforts to save Scottish wildcat 'threatened' by infighting
There has been a warning efforts to safeguard the future of the endangered Scottish wildcat are being threatened by infighting among conservationists.
It comes after one group, Wildcat Haven, revealed gamekeepers were to be allowed to shoot feral cats trapped as part of a conservation project.
That has led to counter claims from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
It alleged Wildcat Haven was using "underhand and distorting ploys to further its own agenda."
Dr Paul O' Donoghue, Wildcat Haven's chief scientific advisor, has published an application for a trapping licence submitted by the RZSS to SNH.
The document was released under Freedom of Information legislation.
It states: "Any individuals which are obviously feral domestic cats will be dispatched according to standard predator control practices, by the land manager, with appropriate firearm in one shot with minimal time to death."
Dr O' Donoghue said he was "deeply saddened" by the discovery.
He added: "SNH has chosen to allow the RZSS to trap feral cats, only to shoot them in the face with a shotgun.
"It is barbaric and entirely unnecessary.
"This process also carries an inevitable risk to wildcats being shot through misidentification in the trap, and an equally unacceptable risk that someone's pet could be killed in this way."
Wildcat Haven argues feral cats should be neutered, rather than shot, and is now calling for a moratorium on the plans.
But the RZSS has accused Wildcat Haven of deliberately hampering collective efforts to save the Scottish wildcat.
Prof Christ West, the organisation's chief executive officer, said: "Feral cats have been legally controlled across the UK for many decades by landowners and gamekeepers, including via shooting.
"RZSS is instead encouraging land managers to cage trap feral cats instead of night shooting or snaring, which present a much greater risk to wildcats.
"It would be irresponsible for us not to develop best practice guidelines using advice from veterinary professionals...to help prevent any unnecessary animal suffering."
He added: "Any feral cats trapped by or handed into RZSS that do not meet the criteria for wildcats, and which landowners refuse to take back, will be humanely euthanised by our veterinary team and not shot by a gamekeeper as Wildcat Haven's statement misleadingly claims."
Eileen Stuart, head of policy and advice at Scottish Natural Heritage, said: "Wildcat Haven's actions misrepresent the progress we have made in the conservation of the Scottish wildcat.
"To be able to work with them, we need them to produce evidence and information relating to their activities.
"Our national project is supported by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, contrary to Wildcat Haven's claims.
"There are no credible alternatives offered by Wildcat Haven."
The official Scottish Wildcat Action project is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh University's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, the Cairngorms National Park Authority, the National Trust for Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland, the Scottish Gamekeepers' Association, and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.