Scottish wildcat 'safe haven' set up in Ardnamurchan

image copyrightRspb scotland
image captionConservationists warn that the species is on brink of extinction in the wild

A location on the remote Ardnamurchan peninsula in the north west Highlands has been designated as a Scottish wildcat sanctuary.

Domestic cats near the area are being neutered to prevent them breeding with pure wildcats.

Mixing with domestic cats, disease and loss of habitat have led to wildcats becoming an endangered species.

The Ardnamurchan project involves scientist Dr Paul O'Donoghue and Kent-based charity the Aspinall Foundation.

Dr O'Donoghue and the foundation took the project over from the Scottish Wildcat Association (SWA) last year.

The scientist told BBC Radio Scotland that the animals had the best chance of surviving in the remotest parts of Scotland.

Ardnamurchan includes some of Scotland's wildest landscapes and few human residents. The main communities of Acharacle and Strontian have populations of about 560 and 350.

Dr O'Donoghue added: "Places like the central Highlands, like the Cairngorms, where there is a high human population and a massive cat population, the pure wildcat is a doomed wildcat."

image copyrightAFP
image captionDomestic cats pose a threat to pure-bred wildcats

In 2012, SWA warned that wildcats would be extinct in the wild within months after estimating that numbers of pure-bred cats had fallen to about 35 individuals.

A team put together by the association reviewed 2,000 records of camera trap sightings, eyewitness reports and also road kills.

SWA said the analysis suggested there could be 35 wildcats - far fewer than previously thought.

Other research has estimated that there could be less than 400 pure-bred cats.

Scottish Natural Heritage has estimated that there were 150 breeding pairs left.

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