A GRASS-ROOTS conservation project for the critically endangered Scottish wildcat has been highlighted by Humane Society International for its innovative use of humane, trap-neuter-return controls of feral cats. Recent estimates place the population of wildcats as low as 35 in Scotland, where they are threatened by hybridisation, or cross-mating, with feral domestic cats.

This makes the Scottish wildcat more than 70 times rarer than the giant panda or Bengal tiger. Amidst repeated calls for culls and stronger lethal controls by many other conservation groups, Wildcat Haven, running in the West Highlands since 2008, has pioneered the use of TNR in a conservation context, neutering feral populations across almost 500 square miles of remote wildcat habitat. Alongside neutering work, the project runs educational programs for schools, free pop-up vet clinics for local cat owners, research into wildcat behaviour and genetics, and has recently begun crowd-funding purchases of land to establish a network of wildcat habitat strongholds across the West Highlands. Humane Society International UK executive director Claire Bass commented: "Wildcat Haven is a fantastic model of compassionate conservation to save a species, and it is extremely encouraging to see that the Ardnamurchan and Morvern communities have been so engaged and supportive. The outcomes benefit companion animals and feral cat populations, and give the best chance of survival to this iconic endangered species. "We're extremely pleased to add our support to enable expansion of the project in Scotland, and plan to explore opportunities to replicate this model and use its learnings to improve feral cat management approaches in other parts of the world." Chief scientific advisor for the Wildcat Haven project, Dr Paul O'Donoghue, commented: "It's an incredible honour for our project to be recognised by such a huge, global welfare organisation like HSI. Wildcat Haven has always been about striving for exceptional animal welfare standards and delivering compassionate conservation that keeps wildcats where they belong, in the wild. "This is a critical time for the wildcat but also an exciting one as the Haven project is really building momentum. Not only is the haven area expanding year on year, but by launching a new crowd funding approach to buying nature reserves for wildcats, we are now offering an opportunity for everyone to get involved and play their part in saving one of the rarest animals on the planet; time is tight, but we can still save this animal."