WILDCAT kittens set to be released into the Highlands could be born as early as next month, those behind the conservation programme have told The National.

Saving Wildcats, the wildcat recovery project based primarily at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, said the next batch of kittens will be arriving shortly with breeding season already underway.

Several wildcats are already paired and are expected to stay in breeding enclosures until March.

It follows on from a successful breeding season last year, which saw 14 kittens born after adult wildcats were paired in special breeding enclosures.

The National: There were 14 wildcat kittens born last yearThere were 14 wildcat kittens born last year (Image: RZSS / Saving Wildcats)

The kittens are anticipated to be born from March or April at the earliest, with a release date planned for the summer.

After they are born, they will be moved to a pre-release enclosure where they will develop the skills needed to survive in the wild, before being released into an undisclosed area in the Highlands.

The species is critically endangered

The European wildcat is the last wild feline living in Britain. The species is critically endangered, with around 150 estimated to be in captivity across the UK.

The Saving Wildcats project, expected to run until at least 2026, is led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) in collaboration with Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry and Land Scotland, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Nordens Art (Sweden) and Junda de Andalucia (Spain).

The project is currently overseeing 16 wildcats in pre-release enclosures, 13 of which are kittens born last year.

One kitten born in 2023 passed away, with an investigation underway as to the cause of death.

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Both the breeding and pre-release enclosures are off limits to the public to limit the wildcats’ exposure to humans. Even interaction with keepers is kept to a minimum, with more than 70 cameras installed in the enclosures to monitor their behaviour.

The Saving Wildcats team has already seen encouraging behaviour from the wildcats, including signs of hunting, pouncing and stalking.

The National: A member of the project's field team tracking wildcats which have been releasedA member of the project's field team tracking wildcats which have been released (Image: RZSS / Saving Wildcats)

Once they are released into the wild, the team will be out in the field monitoring their wellbeing six days a week, where they will be able to pick up vital data from GPS collars worn by the animals.

To follow the progress of the Saving Wildcats project, click here.