The “Highland Tiger”: A Critically Endangered Subspecies

I’ve already pronounced myself a sucker for wild cats; I’m also part-Scottish (clans Lockhart and Arbuthnot).  So imagine my delight when I learned recently that there exists such a thing as the Scottish wildcat, also called the highland tiger!  Unfortunately, this unique beast is almost extinct.

Wildcat at British Wildlife Centre
A Scottish wildcat, courtesy of Peter Trimming via Wikimedia Commons.

Felis silvestra grampia is a subspecies of the European wildcat restricted only to Scotland.  Though the full species is in no danger of extinction, the highland tiger is.  According to University of Chester biologist Paul O’Donoghue (as quoted in this May 2013 BBC article): “The plight of the wildcat is now so serious that unless urgent and targeted conservation activities take place, its extinction due to hybridisation is a certainty.  Recent estimates suggest that fewer than 100 remain, making it one of the rarest animals in the world.”  Dr. O’Donoghue continued: “Unless decisive action is taken, the wildcat could be declared extinct with the next 12 to 24 months.”

So things are not looking good for the highland tiger.  What will the world lose if this creature goes extinct?  Let’s hear the Scottish Wildcat Association tell it:

Surviving human persecution for five hundred more years than the British wolf and over a thousand more years than the British lynx or bear, they inspired and terrified the same Highland clans that defied the Roman and English empires. … Although wildcats look similar to domestic cats, these are no feral or farm cats run wild; they’re Britain’s only remaining large wild predator and have walked this land for millions of years before mankind arrived or domestic cats appeared. Every inch a cat in every sense of the word the Scottish wildcat epitomises the independent, mysterious and wild spirit of the Highlands like no other creature.

Unsurprisingly, the Scottish Wildcat Association has a rather colorful description of the highland tiger’s appearance:

By appearance the Scottish wildcat resembles a very muscular domestic tabby, the coat is made up of well defined brown and black stripes and usually has a ruffled appearance due to its thickness. The gait is more like that of a big cat and the face and jaw are wider and more heavy set than the domestic cat. Most apparent is the beautiful tail; thick and ringed with perfect bands of black and brown ending in a blunt black tip. … Their body is an evolutionary perfection; eighteen razor sharp retractable claws and rotating wrists for gripping prey and climbing trees, immensely powerful thigh muscles for 30mph sprinting, the ability to fall from the highest pine tree, land on its feet and walk away unscathed, incredible stealth, balance and agility all wrapped in a thick, camoflaged and religiously cleaned coat with one downy layer to keep in the warm and another outer layer to keep out the rain and cold.

Lucky for all of us, some organizations are working to keep the highland tiger alive.  While the Scottish Wildcat Association (the source of the text above) appears to be winding down, check out the organization Highland Tiger.


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