TWO rare Scottish wildcats born at Edinburgh Zoo may help provide a lifeline for the species.

The kittens will join a conservation breeding programme which experts hope will save the species from extinction in the wild through future re-introductions.

David Barclay, cat conservation project officer at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: "Scottish wildcats are facing severe threats due to cross-breeding with domestic and feral cats, disease transfer and accidental persecution.

"Wildcat populations have suffered a sharp decline in Scotland in recent decades with studies suggesting there may be as few as 115 Scottish wildcats left in the wild, making them one of the UK's most endangered mammals."

The wildcat kittens have recently started to emerge from their den at the zoo and explore their habitat.

Barclay says every birth is a "lifeline" for future the species.

He said: "Our conservation breeding programme and work with partners in Scottish Wildcat Action, the national conservation project, is therefore vital.

"Every birth is a potential lifeline and improves the chances of a genetically healthy population that can act as a source for future wildcat release."