Wildcats threatened as charities go to war

Wildcat in snow

Fighting between leading conservation groups is endangering the very species they are determined to protect 

13th April 2016 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Efforts to save Scotland’s endangered wildcat population are being threatened by infighting among conservation charities.

A spat has broken out between conservation group Wildcat Haven and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) over the killing of domestic feral cats.

RZSS said it will allow its gamekeepers to shoot feral cats trapped as part of a national conservation project to protect the wildcats. 

But Dr Paul O' Donoghue, Wildcat Haven's chief scientific advisor, has published a freedom of information request for a trapping licence made by RZSS to Scottish Natural Heritage claiming the move is barbaric and unecessary. 

The application by RZSS states: "Any individuals which are obviously feral domestic cats will be dispatched according to standard predator control practices, by the land manager, with appropriate firearm in one shot with minimal time to death."

Dr O' Donoghue said he was "deeply saddened" by the discovery.

He added: "SNH has chosen to allow the RZSS to trap feral cats, only to shoot them in the face with a shotgun.

"It is barbaric and entirely unnecessary.

SNH has chosen to allow the RZSS to trap feral cats, only to shoot them in the face with a shotgun - Paul O' Donoghue

"This process also carries an inevitable risk to wildcats being shot through misidentification in the trap, and an equally unacceptable risk that someone's pet could be killed in this way."

Wildcat Haven says that the feral cats should be neutered, rather than shot and wants a moratorium on the plans.

But this has led to the RZSS alleging that Wildcat Haven is using "underhand and distorting ploys to further its own agenda."

By publishing the document RZSS says Wildcat Haven is deliberately hampering collective efforts to save the Scottish wildcat.

Prof Christ West, the organisation's chief executive officer, said: "Feral cats have been legally controlled across the UK for many decades by landowners and gamekeepers, including via shooting.

"RZSS is instead encouraging land managers to cage trap feral cats instead of night shooting or snaring, which present a much greater risk to wildcats.

"It would be irresponsible for us not to develop best practice guidelines using advice from veterinary professionals...to help prevent any unnecessary animal suffering."

He added: "Any feral cats trapped by or handed into RZSS that do not meet the criteria for wildcats, and which landowners refuse to take back, will be humanely euthanised by our veterinary team and not shot by a gamekeeper as Wildcat Haven's statement misleadingly claims."

Eileen Stuart, head of policy and advice at Scottish Natural Heritage, said: "Wildcat Haven's actions misrepresent the progress we have made in the conservation of the Scottish wildcat.

"To be able to work with them, we need them to produce evidence and information relating to their activities.

"Our national project is supported by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, contrary to Wildcat Haven's claims.

"There are no credible alternatives offered by Wildcat Haven."