The first of 16 critically endangered wildcats has arrived at a centre which will prepare them for release into the wild.
The Saving Wildcats conservation breeding-for-release centre is located at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s (RZSS) Highland Wildlife Park, near Kingussie in the Cairngorms.
Nell, a young female, arrived from Alladale Wilderness Reserve, Ardgay, earlier this month and has settled well into the centre, which provides breeding space, veterinary care, remote monitoring and training to prepare cats for life in the wild.
It is hoped that any kittens Nell rears will be among the first cats released into the Scottish Highlands next year as part of the Saving Wildcats project to restore the species in Scotland.
David Barclay, Saving Wildcats ex-situ conservation manager, said: “Saving Wildcats is an incredibly exciting partnership bringing together the necessary resources and expertise to save Scotland’s iconic wildcat.
“Nell is the first cat to be introduced into our breeding-for-release centre at Highland Wildlife Park and she has settled well into her new surroundings.
“A further 15 cats will be arriving at the centre in the coming weeks, giving us a healthy, genetically diverse population to breed from.
“Offspring will then be transferred to larger pre-release enclosures as they mature where they will undergo a dedicated training programme to prepare them for life in the wild.
“We hope the first cats will be ready to be introduced into a site in the Scottish Highlands in 2022.”
Wildcats, also dubbed the Highland Tiger, are one of Scotland’s rarest and most threatened mammals.
The breeding-for-release centre is not open to the public.
The project is led by the RZSS in collaboration with NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland, the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Norden’s Ark and Junta de Andalucía.