Birth of wildcat kittens sparks hope for species

Conservationists have said the birth of wildcat kittens at a Kent wildlife park has sparked fresh hopes for the survival of Britain's rarest mammal species.

The litter was born nine weeks ago at Wildwood Trust’s Herne Bay park near Canterbury in an off-show breeding enclosure, to parents Talla and Blair.

Laura Gardner, director of conservation at the trust, said the kittens will play an important role in bringing back the species from the "brink of extinction".

European wildcats are considered rarer than the Bengal tiger and giant panda.

Wildcats are the only native cat species surviving in Britain, with a small population still roaming the Scottish Highlands.

But with an estimated fewer than 300 individuals left, the Scottish wildcat population has been declared “functionally extinct”.

'Working together'

Ms Gardner said: "Wildwood has been breeding wildcats for over ten years, building knowledge and expertise of the species which has led to our amazing breeding success.

"By working together with the breeding programme partners, we are ensuring the beautiful wildcat has a future in Britain."

The kittens will contribute to the wildcat conservation breeding programme by The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which has been designed to support the restoration of the species in Britain.

Wildwood said the new kittens are the first to be born since the completion of dedicated breeding enclosures at the Herne Bay park.

Sally Holt, head of carnivores and small mammals at Wildwood said: "The off-show enclosures have created a quieter environment, which will help the kittens develop key survival skills without becoming habituated to people."

"They have such a close bond already and enjoy playing and sleeping next to each other," Ms Holt added.

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