On first glance this inquisitive kitten (about to tuck into a dead rabbit) looks just like a domestic moggy, but is actually one of the rarest animals in the world.
She’s one of a pair of orphaned Scottish Wildcat kittens who have been rescued by conservation group Wildcat Haven, and who have been moved to a purpose-built rehabilitation centre in the West Highlands.
Wildcat Haven have produced a clip of them exploring their surroundings at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kub8aGnlfD0
When the time is right they’ll be released back into the wild.
With only 35 pure Scottish Wildcats thought to be left in the world, the pair represent six per cent of all the Scottish Wildcats in existence.
A spokesperson for Wildcat Haven said: “These are the rarest kittens on earth”.
Wildcat sightings are reported to Wildcat Haven on a regular basis, and most often turn out to be sightings of domestic tabbies or part-wildcat ‘hybrids’.
However this is the first time they have been recently born wildcat kittens, seemingly orphaned and not far from a road.
“I almost fell off my chair when I saw the photos,” said Wildcat Haven’s chief scientific advisor Dr Paul O’Donoghue,
“The markings looked amazing, far better than any kitten I’d seen in a zoo, but in a very exposed place.
“It seemed likely they had been abandoned or orphaned and were in grave danger.”
By next morning Wildcat Haven team members were converging on the East Highlands from across the UK, with permission granted by Scottish Natural Heritage to carry out a rescue if the kittens were indeed orphaned.
Elaborate precautions were taken to make sure the kittens’ mum wasn’t still on the scene - for fear of scaring her off and causing an unnecessary problem.
Twent-four hours later Wildcat Haven reported: “By next morning after some food and water the timid kittens had transformed entirely and we had two spitting balls of fury in their place.
“They were little mini wildcats stamping, hissing and growling, displaying all the explosive aggression typical of the species, reputed to be untameable.”
The kittens’ mum was never found.
“I am overjoyed that we’ve been able to give these two orphaned wildcat kittens a lifeline.” said Paul O’Donoghue,
“They’re safe in the largest wildcat enclosure in Europe,
“Highland Titles have literally put a fence round a forest - there’s even a stream.
“It’s a near-wild environment for these priceless kittens to grow into adults with our whole team looking out for them as they do so.
“We must do everything we can to keep as many Wildcats in the wild as possible.
“The look in these kitten’s eyes tells you immediately that they don’t belong in a cage.”
“Once these kittens are old enough they will be released at the first opportunity.
“Any wildcat that comes here will be returned to the wild.
“The purest wildcats are in the wild, they can be protected there, and it’s where they belong, not in a cage selling zoo tickets.
“These kittens will be a huge boost for the species in the wild”.
Wildcat Haven advises: “If you ever come across Scottish wildcat kittens don’t assume they have been abandoned!
“Their mother may have just left them to go hunting.
“Try to get some photos and send them to email@example.com with the location and your contact number”.