Is the Scottish wildcat on the Isle of Mull?
A tourist on the Isle of Mull has taken a picture of what is believed to be a wildcat, spotted in the northern part of the island.
An expert involved in wildcat research has noted that the species does not show the dislike of water traditionally associated with domestic cats, and that it is possible that a wildcat could have swum from the Scottish mainland to the island, a distance of about one mile. There is no bridge to the island, which is linked only by boat or ferry. The stowaway option seems to be fairly unlikely, as wildcats are particularly shy and wary of humans, so would probably not want to linger near boats, as there are usually people around, together with general activity.
Although the wildcat is described as ‘pretty decent swimmer’, the trip to Mull seems to be a fairly major excursion for such a small animal, given the possible effects of tides and currents, and the consideration that the cat would not know the island was there. Given its viewpoint, which would virtually be from the surface of the water, it would not know it heading for land. Could it have fallen into the sea, become disoriented, lost sight of land (the mainland) and simply swam instinctively, until it either reached land (the island), or expired?
Experts hope to travel to Mull and investigate the report, and the result will hopefully also be reported in the news.
There are serious implications arising from the sighting, not yet covered by the media reports.
If it is only a single wildcat that has swum to the island, then it will die alone without being able to breed.
If there are more, then there may be a formerly unknown colony on the island. In this case, the potential for interbreeding with domestic cats is high, due to the closed nature and small size of the island, leading to a dilution of the wildcat population.
The wildcat is a high-level predator, but in small numbers, there is probably sufficient small numbers to sustain the population.
There is a more serious, and criminal implication, that of the animal(s) being smuggled to the island, by some possibly well-meaning, but misinformed and uneducated green looney, in the belief that kidnapping wildcats from the mainland and deliberately introducing them to the island is a good idea.
At a guess, and we’ll have to wait and see if the experts pass an opinion, this is a bad idea.
For the obvious reasons already noted, dilution of the species by interbreeding, impact of its predation on the local animal population, and sustainability of the introduced species, such an action without research, planning, and approval amounts to animal cruelty, as it can leave an introduced species starving to death, or the extinction of local species. There are reasons for the rules governing the deliberate introduction of new or non-extant species into an island environment, and why it is illegal to do so without approval.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a handy pic of a genuine swimming Scottish wildcat to hand, but I did find I had access to a photograph of an Asian fishing cat (Prionailurus viverinus), and it is worth looking at, given its markings. Found mainly in the tropical Wetlands of Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Thailand, the fishing cat lives off of aquatic birds and ducks, and is another vulnerable species.