A wildlife organisation’s claims that it rescued a wildcat kitten on an Aberdeenshire farm have been thrown into doubt by leading environmentalists.
Highlands-based Wildcat Haven said the underweight feline had been trapped by a farmer after feasting on some chickens in one of his coops.
Its members have now taken the young cat to a purpose-built rescue centre where it will live over winter, as the prelude to being released back into the wild when the weather gets warmer in the spring.
Wildcat Haven’s Steve Sleigh, who collected the cat, said: “I had no idea what to expect, but as soon as I saw her, I knew she was a wildcat kitten with a thick blunt tail, perfect dorsal stripe marking and ferocious personality.
“She was snarling and spitting as soon as I went near, but looked very small for her age. She clearly needed to get to a vet straight away.”
The kitten was the third to be rescued by the group this year, following the find of a suspected brother and sister in the Cairngorms in summer.
The organisation’s chief scientific advisor, Paul O’Donoghue, said: “We’re reluctant captors and there’s no question that these kittens will all return to the wild.
“We hope the male may bond with the new kitten, so that they could be released into adjoining territories, enhancing the chances of them breeding healthy new kittens out in the wild, where these cats belong.”
However, wildlife experts say no proof has been offered to prove that any of these animals are indeed wildcats – and are calling on Wildcat Haven to conduct genetic tests and provide the evidence.
A spokesman for conservation group Scottish Wildcat Action, which works with more than 20 professional organisations across the country, said: “We note that a wildcat interest group is claiming to have discovered a Scottish wildcat kitten.
“It is not possible to confidently identify a wildcat kitten from that of a domestic tabby cat by physical appearance alone.
“As this cat is being held, there’s no reason not to carry out a genetic test.
“Without this, it cannot be assumed that this kitten is a Scottish wildcat.”
He added: “In addition, it would be illegal and irresponsible to release a hybrid cat without a licence.”