Plans have been lodged for a breeding centre in the Highlands to offer a last chance for Scotland’s iconic wildcats.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) wants to build 12 timber framed, mesh roofed breeding enclosures and eight fenced pre-release enclosures on a site to the rear of its Highland Wildlife Park attraction at Kincraig.
Designs for the centre, which also include a wood-clad storage container, all within a biosecure fence and off show to the public, are outlined in a planning application being considered by the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA).
The RZSS wants to begin work as soon as possible on the breeding centre, which is seen as a last chance for the species after a report concluded that there was no longer a viable population living naturally in Scotland. The report warned that without releases, the species is “highly likely” to become extinct within just a few years.
If given the go ahead, the centre would provide facilities for breeding, veterinary care, remote monitoring and training, with wildcats potentially being released into Cairngorms National Park from 2022.
RZSS, which already runs a conservation breeding programme for wildcats at the Highland Wildlife Park, is collaborating with a network of other institutions to provide animals for the pioneering wider scheme.
Although expected to be completed in stages, conservationists remain hopeful that there will be wildcats in the facility by the turn of the year.
The application was originally submitted to Highland Council, and subsequently “called in” by the CNPA, which will now decide whether it can go ahead.
The CNPA said: “The Application is for development of a new animal enclosure for breeding of a species of conservation significance, located at an important tourist attraction within the National Park and is therefore considered to raise issues of significance to the collective aims of the National Park.”