Pet owners are being urged to get their cats involved in the fight to protect one of Scotland’s most treasured species.
A project has been launched, designed to transform domestic felines into “supercats” in a bid to reverse the decline of the critically-endangered Scottish wildcat.
There are believed to be fewer than 100 of the elusive creatures left in the wilderness.
The species, synonymous with Scotland, is dying out due to loss of habitat, interbreeding with feral and domestic cats and feline disease.
Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) is behind the new campaign, which is calling for people to get domestic and farm cats micro-chipped, neutered and vaccinated to prevent cross-breeding and disease with the Scots species.
The predators are found in the central and northern Highlands, including the Cairngorms National Park, in their preferred woodland habitat.
The Supercat campaign was launched yesterday with the support of wildlife filmmaker, Gordon Buchanan, who has worked with Sir David Attenborough on the Planet Earth series.
SWA said the scheme would also protect domestic felines against a number of diseases.
Mr Buchanan – who is also known for Big Cat Diary, Springwatch and Natural World – said: “Scottish wildcats are stunning creatures and an important part of our natural heritage.
“I would encourage all cat owners to help protect this native species by getting their pet or farm cat vaccinated, neutered and micro-chipped.”
Priority areas manager for SWA, Roo Campbell, added: “If all domestic cats were Supercats, it would give wildcats the best chance of survival. We know a few wildcats are still out there, but they face serious threats.
“To increase their numbers, it’s really important that they have more wildcat kittens and not the hybrid kittens born from mating with domestic cats.”
Professor Anna Meredith, personal chairwoman of Zoological and Conservation Medicine at Edinburgh University’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, added: “Diseases that are a threat to both domestic cats and wildcats include feline leukaemia and feline aids.
“The best way to provide protection from these fatal diseases and other threats is to both neuter and vaccinate domestic cats.”
The project has also won the support of vets in Scotland.
Last year, the Press and Journal revealed another group fighting to save the animals, Wildcat Haven, had unearthed a stronghold of 10 of the animals between Rhynie and Dufftown.
The group has successfully established a safe haven for the animals in Ardnamurchan and is extending its programme to the north-east.