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Scottish wildcat out hunting at night. Photo: Adrian Bennett / Wildcat Haven.
Scottish wildcat out hunting at night. Photo: Adrian Bennett / Wildcat Haven.
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Scotland's secret cat slaughter revealed in FOI documents

Oliver Tickell

12th April 2016

Documents released to Wildcat Haven reveal the secret plans of the Scottish Wildcat Action Plan - funded by taxpayers and the National Lottery - to kill trapped feral cats by shooting them in the head with shotguns. Public documents mention only neutering, successfully carried out by Wildcat Haven to protect pure wildcat populations.

Dispatch with a 12 bore shotgun using number three shot (lead shot not to be used overforeshore or wetlands), positioned 5m from the trap, aiming at the head and front of shoulder, is recommended.

Conservation organisation Wildcat Haven has obtained documents from Scottish Government agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) about its Scottish Wildcat Action Plan under a Freedom of Information request that reveal its secret plan to shoot cats with shotguns.

A key aim of the project is to engage members of the public to donate money and to report sightings of feral domestic cats and wildcat-domestic cat hybrids. One of the main threats to the wildcat is cross-mating, or hybridisation, with domestic and feral cats.

To that end the Action Plan makes assurances that neutering will be used to reduce cross-mating with wildcats under its 'Trap-Neuter-Release programme'. Neutering is the only feral cat control method listed in the publicly published Action Plan on SNH's website (page 8).

However the trapping licence issued by SNH to Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) dictates that all feral cats caught must be shot by gamekeepers in the cage trap (see page 12 first para RZSS licence application document).

Claire Bass, Executive Director of Humane Society International / UK, which supports the Wildcat Haven project, commented: "We are appalled and dismayed that feral cats in Scotland are facing death in the name of 'conservation' under protocols authored by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

"I am sure the public will be rightly shocked by this sad revelation. Wildcat Haven has proven that feral cats can be sterilised, not shot, to protect Scottish wildcats in their natural habitat.

'Humane Dispatch Protocols'

The license application is supported by a detailed document authored by RZSS, setting out 'Humane Dispatch Protocols' which includes the stipulation (page 21 last para RZSS licence application document):

"Any individuals which are obviously feral domestic cats, non-native or unfit for release will bedispatched according to standard predator control practices, by the land manager, as per estate norms. Dispatch with a 12 bore shotgun using number three shot (lead shot not to be used overforeshore or wetlands), positioned 5m from the trap, aiming at the head and front of shoulder, is recommended."

The documents also note that any cats brought to the project as suspected wildcats will be killed if they do not meet the standards of a wildcat genetic test developed by RZSS. ('Opportunistic Acquisition' pages 12/13 and 24 of RZSS licence application document):

"Such individuals will undergo the same process as licenced trapped cats, placed within quarantine facilities at HWP and undergo health, genetic and pelage screening and subsequently either included in the conservation breeding for release programme or euthanized based on the results of the screening process."

The documents obtained by Wildcat Haven include SNH minutes, emails and policies relating to conservation of the Scottish wildcat. They also show that the Action Plan receives funding from the taxpayer, the Heritage Lottery Fund and several other sources.

The £2 million Heritage Lottery Fund and tax-funded Scottish Wildcat Action Plan project, also known as 'Save Our Wildcats' and 'Scottish Wildcat Action', is driven by SNH and RZSS (which owns Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park) and signed off by Scottish Environment Minister Aileen McLeod.

The project also incudes the Scottish Government, Chester Zoo, Scottish Wildlife Trust, National Trust for Scotland and The Royal School of Veterinary Studies Edinburgh University.

Another way: humane sterilisation

Wildcat Haven runs a project based entirely on compassionate conservation. It has created a vast, 800 square mile safe region in the West Highlands, by humanely sterilising the domestic and feral cat population, in partnership with landowners and local communities.

Wildcat Haven and its lawyers held a meeting with SNH and RZSS Edinburgh Zoo in last month to raise a range of concerns relating to the Action Plan, and requested that the Action Plan be suspended pending investigation. But this request was refused, and RZSS Edinburgh Zoo confirmed that it had already killed feral domestic cats under the license after they failed genetic tests.

Claire Bass praised Wildcat Haven's approach for being both humane and effective: "I've had the opportunity to see Wildcat Haven's team in action as they create support in communities and implement humane approaches.

"Given Wildcat Haven's successes, it seems illogical that the Scottish Government's Action Plan insists on compromising animal welfare in this way, whilst simultaneously purporting to support humane feral cat controls. We join Wildcat Haven in urging for an immediate suspension of this lethal plan."

SNH confirmed in the meeting with Wildcat Haven that the Heritage Lottery Fund was fully aware of all activities taking place under the Action Plan. An HLF spokesperson said:

"The Heritage Lottery Fund is supporting a project run by leading conservation organisations to raise awareness of how the public can help endangered wildcat species through identifying, neutering and vaccinating feral cats. This is done in a humane way and does not involve the killing of any animal. It is not for us to comment on elements of the wildcat action plan that are not covered by National Lottery funding."

'Barbaric and entirely unnecessary'

Dr Paul O'Donoghue, Chief Scientific Advisor to Wildcat Haven, and previously an advisor to Scottish Wildcat Action, having left the project in 2014 due to grave concerns with the Action Plan, commented:

"I am deeply saddened to discover the animal welfare compromises that are being made. Neutering has proven to be incredibly effective in the Wildcat Haven fieldwork area for humanely managing feral cat populations and Scottish Natural Heritage are fully aware of the results from our work under their licence; hundreds of square miles of safe habitat for wildcats.

"In contrast, we have seen no evidence that the approach taken by the Action Plan to date has reduced the risk posed to wildcats from feral cats in any of its priority areas. Instead of following the evidence we have provided to them, Scottish Natural Heritage has chosen to allow the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland to trap feral cats, only to shoot them in the face with a shotgun. It is barbaric and entirely unnecessary.

"This process also carries an inevitable risk to wildcats being shot through misidentification in the trap, and an equally unacceptable risk that someone's pet could be killed in this way. We urge Scottish Natural Heritage to place a moratorium on the Scottish Wildcat Action Plan in its current form in order to deal properly with the wide range of concerns we have raised."

 


 

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