The Aspinall Foundation Sets Up Island Sanctuary To Prevent Imminent Extinction Of The Scottish Wildcat
The Aspinall Foundation (TAF) today announces a unique initiative to save the Scottish wildcat which has become one of the most critically endangered species in the world due to masscross- breeding with feral domestic cats.
TAF will lead a team of conservationists to establish a custom built wildcat breeding centre at the remote island of Carna off the west coast of Scotland. The centre will provide a vital sanctuary where pure Scottish wildcats – who are now believed to number no more than 35 in the wild - can breed in safety before being reintroduced into their natural habitats.
Damian Aspinall who runs the Foundation said: “With the hybridisation caused by hordes of domestic feral cats, the extinction of true wildcats in Scotland is imminent unless this direct and immediate action is taken.
“TAF of course supports the action plan currently being developed by the Scottish government to conserve the wildcat. However, as funding is not yet secured, the breeding project is unlikely to start until later in 2014”.
“We just don’t believe wildcats have the luxury of that time before they become extinct. Our initiative, starting immediately, means that litters of pure wildcats will be born safely and will be ready for when the government’s action plan receives funding”.
“We believe this is an example of real in situ conservation with the future reintroduction sites visible from the breeding centre so that the cats won’t have far to go before they are sent back to the wild”.
The Aspinall Foundation is uniquely qualified to carry out this project because it holds the studbook for the Scottish wildcat and also has direct access to the latest wildcat genetic test.
Neville Buck, studbook keeper for the Scottish wildcat said, “I am unaware of any facilities in Scotland that are suitable to deliver this project. It is essential that we move ahead now to provide this breeding sanctuary”.
TAF’s breeding centre is a key part of a large scale wildcat conservation project on Scotland’s West Coast. Thousands of feral cats on the coast’s peninsulas are to be trapped and neutered to create large mainland areas clear of the threat of hybridisation. This will mean that the pure wildcats bred at the TAF centre can be released safely into the wild without the risk of cross breeding again.
Dr Paul O’Donoghue, who holds the only trapping license for wildcats and has developed the genetic test and is working closely with The Aspinall Foundation, said:
“The West Coast holds the only short term chance for a realistic conservation effort. The geography means that wildcat havens can be set up where the species can be protected from hybridisation.
“It is optimistic to think that areas such as the Cairngorms, surrounded on all sides by human habitation, can act as sanctuaries as it would be impossible to stop the relentless flow of feral cats into the areas. It would take a draconian move by the government to ban cat ownership in such areas and that’s just not realistic.”
To further its immediate action, TAF is also asking landowners on the west coast of Scotland if they would be prepared to provide land that could be used for wildcat conservation. It is anticipated that this first breeding centre will only be the start of this ambitious project to establish the west coast of Scotland as an effective stronghold for the wildcat.
· The Aspinall Foundation manages conservation projects in Congo, Gabon, Indonesia and Madagascar, as well as providing financial support to various partner projects around the world. The conservation charity’s important work helps prevent some of the most endangered species on the planet from becoming extinct.
· The area where the Aspinall Foundation work in Congo and Gabon was the first large wilderness area to see gorillas hunted to extinction. The primary aim of the reintroduction programme is to re-establish viable populations of the gorilla within this ecosystem. Between 1996 and 2006, fifty-one gorillas have been released; twenty-five in Congo and twenty-six in Gabon. Forty-three of these are wild-born orphans from TAF’s confiscation and rehabilitation programs, and seven are hand reared captive borns, originating from the prolific captive breeding programme at Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Parks. These two projects are the only gorilla reintroduction projects in existence.
· The Aspinall Foundation, working in conjunction with Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Parks in Kent, is one of the most successful breeders of captive endangered animals in the world. With unrivalled achievements in husbandry the conservation charity boasts 135 gorilla births, 33 black rhino, 123 clouded leopards, 33 Javan gibbons, 104 Javan langur and 20 African elephants.
The Aspinall Foundation
Kent CT21 4PD