Amazing video evidence has been released of a pure Scottish wildcat living in Aberdeenshire.
The elusive species have been caught on camera in the past.
But experts say this is the first time the footage has been of sufficient quality to fully verify the creature.
The 40-second video was filmed in the Huntly area and shows the animal, which has been named Phoenix, leaping on to a tree before calmly sitting there sniffing and licking at the branch.
The species is said to be 70 times rarer than the giant panda – making it one of the world’s most endangered species.
The footage was released by Wildcat Haven, which has attempted to establish safe havens for the cats in the west Highlands, and which launched a survey in the area after a number of reported sightings.
The conservation group also believes there could be another 10 of the species in the same area, though they have not been filmed or photographed. There is a 21 point verification process based on the cat’s tail, coat and other factors.
The scale was verified by an independent expert at the National Museums of Scotland.
Phil O’Donoghue, the organisation’s chief scientific adviser, has 20 years experience in conservation work.
He has worked on projects to save the black rhino, the Asiatic tiger and the pygmy rhino in the past, and recently was the expert adviser to a global project to classify every single type of cat species.
But he said this was one of the most important moments in his career.
“It’s incredible to see, it’s a living ghost, people have written the wildcat off,” he said.
“Wildcat Haven will be doing everything it can to ensure this cat stays in the wild.
“We can save them in the wild.
“To put them in a cage is an absolute tragedy.”
The conservation group hopes to establish a monitoring and domestic cat neutering programme in Aberdeenshire to protect the small population, with the co-operation of the local community.
Project manager Kevin Bell will be spearheading the scheme.
He said: “They’re remote, they’ve stayed hidden and survived, and we’ll do everything we can to ensure it stays that way.
“Along with the wildcats in the west Highlands havens, these are the best chance the wildcat has, out in the wild where they belong.”