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Scottish wildcat – Felis 207012 Mark Hamblin (rspb-images.com)24/02/2009

Big, bushy-tailed, tabby-striped and with striking eyes, the Scottish wildcat is the only free-living native forest cat in Britain. It’s always elusive, so if you encounter a wildcat, it could be a wildlife memory to savour for a lifetime

What to look for

To some extent, you’ll know one when you see one. Despite strong similarities with a large domestic tabby cat, the wildcat has a bearing (and an amazing stare) that can make your hair stand on end. But count yourself very, very lucky, for this is arguably the most elusive of all Scottish land mammals. Look for clues, such as droppings on pinewood tracks, far from settlements.

Interesting facts

Wildcats can and do interbreed with domestic cats, so the genes of some free-living cats in the Scottish wilds can be a bit mixed up. But there are differences, such as the skull shape in wild-type cats, that separate the largely, or wholly wild species from its domestic relative.

When and where to see

There is no guarantee of seeing a free-living wildcat anywhere, as locals who live in wildcat country will tell you. But if you want to get an impression of the real McCat, see if there’s a captive one out and about at the Highland Wildlife Park, near Kingussie.