Scotland is home to small
The Sun is rising on a calm and cloudy morning in late February 2017, moncler outlet woodbury and Jamie Sneddon and I have an important collection to make. After a short drive along the north east coast of Scotland passing open fields, detached bungalows, and blooming bushes of gorse that shine with a radiant yellow under the grey sky we arrive at moncler uk outlet the muddy entrance of a farmyard.
Many of the locals here in the remote Scottish Highlands are crofters: they nurture and trade certain root vegetables and small numbers of livestock and poultry, a lifestyle first developed in the 19th Century. After opening a red and rusting gate, we disturb a vocal gaggle of geese and a few chickens. Through the wire fences that border the farm, moncler womens jackets we can also see a small flock of sheep.
However, Sneddon has only one animal on his mind: a cat. He is hoping to catch a stray tomcat moncler outlet prices that rules the yard. The previous day, he had baited a small cage inside one of the farm’s stone outbuildings with mackerel cheap, smelly, and easy to split into cheap moncler jackets womens portions and cat food.
It worked. After noticing the trap door had shut during the night, the landowner placed a 12 pack of ale on the metal cage, both as a gift for Sneddon and as a weight for added security. Peering into the cage in the morning, we can see that this was a wise precaution. The black and white tomcat is huge, thick at the shoulders with muscle, and he has the classic widened face that only develops in sexually mature males. moncler outlet store His nose is covered in claw marks. This is his turf his farm, his females and he has been fighting for it.
Luckily for Sneddon, the cat seems tired out and remains moncler outlet sale somewhat somnolent as he carries the cage to the boot of the car. I carry the box of beers, a much lighter cargo than the big tom.
But the cat is the true gift. Over the next few hours, he transforms from an aggressive stray into a treasured tool of conservation. Ultimately, it could help to protect one of the rarest creatures on Earth: the Scottish wildcat.
View image of The big tomcat in the trap (Credit: Alex Riley)
These cats could number as few as 35 individuals, fewer even than the widely cited “world’s rarest cat”, the Amur leopard. Sneddon is project officer with the non governmental organisation Wildcat Haven, which is working to save them.
In the hills, fields, and gullies surrounding the moncler outlet farm, the isolated populations of Scottish wildcats are within walking distance. The life of this tomcat is the story of their future survival.
Scottish wildcats are formally known as Felis silvestris grampia. uk moncler outlet They are a subspecies of the larger wildcat group that prowl through much of the Old World. To Scottish people, they are Highland tigers. Although they are about the same size as domestic cats, they can be twice as heavy.
Wildcats came to Britain via Doggerland, a huge expanse of marshes and tundra that connected Britain to the European mainland during the height of the last ice age around 12,000 years ago. It is sometimes called a “land bridge”, but that is misleading since it was the size of a country.
Nobody knows when wildcats first moved to Britain. But they became permanent residents around best moncler jackets 6,500 years ago when the moncler sale outlet Earth warmed, the ice melted and the North Sea swept back over Doggerland.
Britain was an island once more, and the wildcats that had crossed Doggerland were cut off from their relatives in Europe. Over generations, they evolved thick grey stripes that run down their flanks and encircle their broad tail, camouflaging their presence in Scottish pine forests.
The wildcats have been shot and trapped for centuries in Wales, moncler sale online England, and southern Scotland. But in the Highlands they were revered as icons. Their wild nature was celebrated by many Celtic monclerdownjacket groups. For instance, the sigil of Clan Macpherson is a snarling Scottish wildcat, and their motto, “Touch not the cat [without] the glove,” is both a warning and a recommendation.
For the wildcats, northern Scotland, where the original stands of Scots pine are still rooted in the mountainsides, was a refuge from human persecution. This protection was reinforced by a 1988 amendment to the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, which made it illegal to shoot or uk moncler sale even disturb a wildcat. That was a huge step for the wildcats, which had been slowly increasing in number since 1914, when only a couple of relict moncler sale populations were left.
Around the same time, however, researchers were realising that they had a lot more work to do. It had become apparent that the biggest threat to wildcats was not humans, but their pets. They were introduced to Britain by the Normans in the 11th Century, and perhaps by the Romans much earlier. In Scotland, there are nearly 200,000 stray domestic cats. They often stay close to human habitations: feral cats that are completely independent of humans are rare at these northerly, bitter latitudes.
For hundreds of years, wildcats have been breeding with domestic cats (Felis catus). The proof is printed in the wildcats’ fur, which is not as stripy as cheap moncler jackets it once was: dots moncler usa and splotches of grey have replaced neat lines. Over the centuries, wildcats have become ever more similar to tabby housecats, and less like miniature tigers.
Slowly, with each hybrid litter, Scottish wildcats are being domesticated, diluted into a form that strains the definition of “wild”. Instead of hunting alone in the wilderness, they often hunt from garden cheap moncler jackets mens bird feeders, devastating the local populations of rare birds.
It is possible that this hybridisation started 2,000 years ago. For that reason, some researchers believe moncler online store that no wildcat is truly cheap moncler coats mens wild anymore. All are hybridised domesticated to a degree. This idea has been supported by genetic tests that found domestic DNA in old wildcat specimens.
But there are still a few wildcats that are boldly striped, that eschew all contact with people, and that hunt hares, rabbits, and other small mammals over large tracts of the Scottish highlands.
These are the cats that Sneddon and his colleagues hope to save. To do so, they leave them alone. They touch not the cat.
View image of The big tomcat during surgery (Credit: Alex Riley)
The Wildcat Haven team has discount moncler jackets a motto of their own: “Keeping wildcats in the wild where they belong.” As Sneddon and I drive around the meandering roads near Wick and Thurso in north east Scotland, this is written on our car’s front doors, underneath a logo of a wildcat formed entirely from black and grey stripes. Seeing this image as we drive past might be the closest many people will get to a true wildcat.
After collecting the big tomcat, Sneddon and I visit many other landowners, all of whom feed stray cats in return for keeping the mouse and rat populations in their barns down. Such “mousing” is a symbiotic relationship, but it can also be harmful for the cats. Living in human moncler outlet online barns and outbuildings also means living with roads and cars; I see plenty of dead cats in the roadside cheap moncler sale mud. men moncler jackets What’s more, inside the buildings domestic cats can live in large colonies numbering over 50 individuals, which become breeding grounds for disease.
With the landowners’ permission, the team of veterinarians and volunteers that make up Wildcat Haven spend the four weeks of February trapping and neutering strays, all the time accompanied by a representative from Humane Society International. If the cats pass all health checks, they are returned to the same area from which they were caught.