Friday, April 3rd, 2015
UK Zoos in controversy as plot to cage endangered Scottish wildcats is exposed
Leaked minutes from a meeting organised by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) – the owners of Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park, reveal Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) have approved the wild trapping of endangered Scottish wildcats for captivity, with other UK zoos such as Chester Zoo, New Forest Wildlife Park and Aigas Field Centre also present at the meeting. Only 35 pure wildcats are believed to survive in Scotland, raising fears from conservationists that this would mean its extinction in the wild, whilst tactics suggested in the minutes to trap and contain these wild animals have been blasted by animal welfare groups.
Scottish wildcats are under threat due to cross-mating with feral domestic cats; a process called hybridisation that gradually waters away the pure wildcat genes over successive generations.
This move to capture free ranging wildcats is part of the Lottery funded SNH Wildcat Action Plan, which has repeatedly come under fire from conservationists, animal welfare groups and even their own scientists over the last two years. Accusations of putting PR before conservation, conning the public over the genetic purity of wildcats in captivity and falsifying survey and genetics research have made this Government approved plan extremely controversial since it’s implementation in 2013.
Claiming that captive breeding is the only thing that can save the wildcat, RZSS have been given authority by SNH to begin trapping and to licence others of their choosing to do so, however, plans to return any captive bred cats to the wild warranted a single comment at the meeting, as RZSS confirmed that one member of staff would carry out assessments of potential release sites when they had no other work to do.
The plan contrasts with the independent Wildcat Haven project in the West Highlands which has created a threat-free safe haven for wildcats over 250 square miles in size using only neutering of feral cats; a project with the widespread support of the local community and animal welfare and conservation organisations worldwide.
Anti-captivity charity the Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) expressed serious concerns about the planned trapping, highlighting that the meeting included discussions on the use of ‘honey-traps’, where live female hybrid cats are planted in cages in the wild to lure male wildcats, and a “barbaric concept” out-lined by Sir John Lister-Kaye of Aigas Field Centre of feeding live animals to captive cats.
Campaigns Director, Nicola O’Brien, stated “Taking animals from the wild to stock zoo exhibits is something which people nowadays see as unacceptable, a throwback to a bygone era where animal collections had nothing to do with animal welfare. Concepts such as using female cats as bait for males or throwing live animals into a cage to be eaten are barbaric ideas that also belong buried in the past.”
“Ignoring the substantial evidence from the Wildcat Haven project that threat-free zones can be effectively created around wildcat populations, this SNH/RZSS plan is unjustifiable, clearly little to do with conservation and everything to do with these zoos stocking their cages. To disguise this cruel act as ‘conservation’, as these zoos are doing, does not make it any less tragic for the individuals removed from their wild homes.”
Of greatest concern perhaps for local cat owners were extensive discussions regarding the killing of domestic cats to prevent them breeding with wildcats, a move to prevent hybridisation. This was noted to be of preference for many in attendance at the meeting rather than neutering programmes such as that carried out by Wildcat Haven.
Emily O’Donoghue, director of the Wildcat Haven project confirmed, “We use humane feral cat neutering under a scientific methodology as a solution to stop the breeding of wildcats with feral domestic cats in a bid to preserve the true, Scottish wildcats. Feral cats across over 250 square miles of the West Highlands have been neutered so far, and we expect to confirm expansion to 600 square miles next winter. Wildcats living here are safe from any threat and much loved by the entire community; we will strongly oppose any effort to remove wildcats from the Haven region, and will be opening several new sites in the hope of protecting other wildcats against these plans. There is no justification for healthy Scottish wildcats to be in cages anymore.”
CAPS has launched a campaign calling on supporters to contact SNH, RZSS and the new Scottish Environment Minister Aileen Macleod to voice their concerns and boycott the zoos involved, they are also supporting local animal rights activists with a demonstration outside of Edinburgh Zoo on Easter Monday.
Wildcat expert Steve Piper, one of the most vocal critics of the Action Plan after walking out on it in 2013, commented, “There’s about 35 wildcats left and you need an absolute minimum of 20 to found a captive population. This is the extinction of the Scottish wildcat from the wild for no reason other than SNH posturing that they’re doing something and RZSS building themselves a little wildcat empire, trying to convince the public that wildcats tearing live rabbits to pieces in a cage is a shining example of animal husbandry. SNH and RZSS are the greatest threat to the wildcat now, I can only hope communities in wildcat areas will stand against them.”
The BBC covered the story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-32162029
Contact the parties involved to let them know why capturing wild animals for a life in a cage is cruel and not the best way forward for conserving the wildcat! Here are facebook pages, twitter accounts and emails – take your pick and please politely ask them to change their plans for the good of these animals.