Seven rare wildcat kittens have been born at the Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore.
The genetically pure youngsters were born to two mothers, Lossie and Katrine, and are a major boost for efforts to save the species.
Conservationists were taken by surprise at the large number of kittens born, originally believing a single kitten had been delivered by first-time mother Katrine.
It wasn’t until a closer and more thorough inspection that it was discovered she was now mum to four tiny wildcat kittens.
A further three were delivered by her mother, Lossie, in a natural den amidst a dense area of bushes in their enclosure.
The finds stunned and delighted staff at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s (RZSS) Highland base.
David Barclay, RZSS cat conservation project officer, said: “It goes without saying that our hopes were lifted when Katrine was captured on video with what appeared to be a rather large abdomen, indicating that she may indeed be pregnant.
“As the weeks went by there was no sign of her having given birth and thoughts of a miscarriage or even a false pregnancy crossed our minds.
“But at the end of May, we were delighted to capture footage of Katrine moving a young kitten back into her nest box.
“It was just one kitten, but it was alive and her mother was moving it with the care and protection needed.
“Video after video, staff would see Katrine occasionally moving her kitten.
“However, it soon became clear that she was either moving one kitten a lot, or there was more than one kitten.
“As the weeks passed and as the number of videos viewed increased, we were shocked to find she had another kitten, and another, and another!
“Four kittens from this young first-time mother is absolutely incredible.”
The addition of seven new kittens comes after the birth of Katrine and a male counterpart last year to Lossie, with the male departing the Highland centre to pastures new earlier this year.
The wildlife conservation charity’s off-show breeding enclosures are designed to retain and develop the key behaviours required in order for the offspring of the endangered species to survive in the wild.
The birth of the seven kittens to mothers Lossie and Katrine will aid plans to deliver the first reintroduction project for wildcats in the UK, with potential release sites currently being explored.
As part of their plans, the development of a dedicated wildcat reintroduction centre is being proposed, which is to be based at Highland Wildlife Park.