One of Scotland’s most iconic animals has been spotted on camera by a gamekeeper on a grouse in the Angus Glens.
Scottish wildcats are at risk of extinction, mainly from mixing with feral domestic cats but also due to disease and persecution.
However, hopes have been raised that efforts to protect the species could be paying off – after a wildcat was spotted enjoying a meal of rabbit.
Head gamekeeper Bruce Cooper, a member of Angus Glens Moorland Group, was checking film from the camera he is operating as part of Scottish Wildcat Action’s drive when he spotted the cat on a grouse estate within the Cairngorms National Park.
The glens were last year named one of the six priority areas for wildcat conservation.
Images of the cat – and its distinctive markings – have now been sent to the project team for identification before it is decided what happens next.
Mr Cooper said: “I have lived in the area for a long time and, when I heard the Angus Glens had been marked out as a priority area or wildcats, I spoke to the local officers and decided to help by operating cameras. Another of the local estate gamekeepers in Angus is also getting involved.
“The trail cameras were installed in the New Year and I was checking the film for the second time when I saw the cat. It came to a bait of rabbit and it looks like the real deal, although that will have to be established now.”
Pure wildcats have a thick, ringed blunt tail with no stripe and tabby markings.
Scottish Wildcat Action project officers will now carefully examine the images.
Hebe Carus, from the group, said: “Reliable identification requires having a variety of different views of the cat and having the time to look for the seven main defining features. Only after analysing the pictures Bruce has sent can I confirm whether the cat displays all the defining features of a genuine Scottish wildcat.
“At the cameras there is also a scented post with Velcro on to try to capture hairs so we can analyse DNA. So far, we have no hairs to analyse, but we hope the cat returns so we get more photos and possibly a hair sample.”
Lianne MacLennan, coordinator of the Angus Glens Moorland Group, said: “Those who work and live in the glens are aware of the high numbers of different species, here. There was talk of wildcats before so it will be interesting to see what the project discovers.”