Pound for pound the Scottish wildcat is one of the most impressive predators in the world; intelligent, fearless, resourceful, patient, agile and powerful they are genuine superpredators and until as recently as the 1950s were believed to be man killers. Although wildcats look similar to domestic cats, these are not feral or farm cats run wild; they’re Britain’s only remaining large wild predator and have walked this land for millions of years before mankind arrived or domestic cats appeared. Every inch a cat in every sense of the word the Scottish wildcat epitomises the independent, mysterious and wild spirit of the Highlands like no other creature. By appearance the Scottish wildcat resembles a very muscular domestic tabby, the coat is made up of well defined brown and black stripes and usually has a ruffled appearance due to its thickness.
Fossil examples measuring 4 feet from nose to tail have been found; such a cat could have weighed around 14kg (30lb). The gait is more like that of a big cat and the face and jaw are wider and more heavy set than the domestic cat . Most apparent is the beautiful tail; thick and ringed with perfect bands of black and brown ending in a blunt black tip.
Their body is an evolutionary perfection; eighteen razor sharp retractable claws and rotating wrists for gripping prey and climbing trees, immensely powerful thigh muscles for 30mph sprinting, the ability to fall from the highest pine tree, land on its feet and walk away unscathed, incredible stealth, balance and agility all wrapped in a thick, camouflaged and religiously cleaned coat with one downy layer to keep in the warm and another outer layer to keep out the rain and cold. Unique to Britain, and now only found in Scotland, they are a sub species of the European wildcat (felis silvestris silvestris) and although similar to the European the Scottish is slightly larger with a thicker coat, more heavily camouflaged and hunts and lives across a wider range of habitats; it is also infamously known as the only wild animal that can never be tamed by human hand, even when captive reared.
Like most felines Scottish wildcats are solitary and largely nocturnal creatures; thought to be most active at dawn and dusk when hunting or marking territory they rest up in hidden thickets, dens or forests by day and patrol and hunt up to 10km through a range of habitats populated by prey overnight. Males and females come together solely to mate in mid-winter and for the rest of their lives the cats are alone. Ecologically the wildcat plays an important role as a predator and controller of small to medium size prey, and even today is a friend to crop farmers as an excellent controller of alien pest species such as rabbits. They are pure carnivores and eat only meat, consuming almost every part of any kill they make; the coat providing roughage, the bones calcium and the meat everything else. Their favoured prey is rabbit and where rabbit is unavailable rodents and small mammals provide the staple food source. This pure meat diet means that parasitic worms are a common problem and wildcats eat long blades of grass which help dislodge and remove some of the worms from their system, it is also thought that the grass provides essential folic acid to their system. Daylight vision is in part-colour and good compared to most animals, night vision is exceptional and around seven times better than our own; whether perception is in colour is currently unknown. Their eyes are tuned primarily to see movement so that they are able to detect and focus on the tiniest movements of prey in dense cover. All cats have truly exceptional hearing with each ear capable of independent rotation through 180 degrees, allowing full surround coverage. The brain is able to triangulate the source of any given nearby noise allowing the cat to pinpoint prey in dense cover without needing to see it. The range of tones they can hear and their ability to differentiate between minute differences in tone is far in excess of human or canine ability, and used to detect and identify high pitched squeaks of small prey species. Their hearing sense is active 24 hours a day even when sleeping. Further information can be found at the Scottish Wildcat Association website.