Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.
The Scottish wildcat, already endangered with fewer than 100 thought to remain in the wild, faces a new threat: the feline immunodeficiency virus, or FIV. Presence of the disease has been confirmed in Morvern, in the West Highlands, one of the areas where preserving the cats is a priority.
The disease is transmitted through bites or scratches when cats (usually males) fight. No vaccine is available for FIV, so a neutering program for feral cats and pet cats allowed to roam is essential. The wildcats are also susceptible to feline leukemia virus, which is also common in feral cats and preventable with a vaccine.
“The importance of vaccinating and neutering cats is at an all-time high as we continue to work together to save our Scottish wildcat,” said professor Anna Meredith of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies.
That’s because hybridization with feral and domestic cats dilutes the wild genes and threatens the species’ genetic integrity. It becomes more difficult to identify which are true wildcats, wildcat hybrids, or feral tabby domestic cats. That threat, combined with the spread of disease by feral cats, puts the iconic cats at even greater risk.
To protect the “Highland tiger,” as the wildcats are known, conservationists are increasing efforts to trap, neuter, and vaccinate feral cats, especially if they live in areas where preserving the wildcats is a priority.