Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Is the Scottish wildcat on the Isle of Mull?

It’s only a few days since we noticed the start of new research into wildcats, and an intriguing story has appeared in the news.

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.

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May 3, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

12 Comments »

  1. This will sound to you completely unbelievable, but when I visited the Isle of Mull as a child with my family (must be 15 – 20 years ago now) we were visiting an abandoned village and a grey striped kitten was up there by itself. We always assumed it was a wild cat and it looked exactly like a ‘highland tiger’ kitten because of the colouring and bushy tail. Of course, it could have been a stray cat, but I was surprised to read this post that there have never been previous sightings.

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    Comment by Jack Wallington | September 5, 2010

  2. The village was on a hill to side of Calgary beach

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    Comment by Jack Wallington | September 5, 2010

  3. My wife and also took pictures of a possible wildcat at Glengorm at the end of April. The feedback we got from an expert was that it was probably a good hybrid.
    We didnt know about this further sighting (perhaps it was the same time as two other people also took pictures) until now.
    Does anyone know if any research was carried out over the summer?

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    Comment by Eddie | October 7, 2010

  4. We live in Tobermory, Myself and my wife have seen the wild cat on the Glengorm road. It was just past the dump road end and it sat by the side of the road for a minute and then crossed in front of us.

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    Comment by Stuart | January 20, 2011

  5. my friend has moved to mull and tonight (14/7/14) i asked her what the name of the deserted village was as my dad and i had seen golden eagles and a wildcat on a walk there around 1980.!!!

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    Comment by rik angelini | July 14, 2014

  6. I was camping in August 2014 at Tobermory campsite on Mull. As i was walking on the B8073 between the campsite and Tobermory i also saw a wildcat just next to the water treatment works.

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    Comment by Stephanie Glover | September 4, 2014

  7. I saw the wildcat on the Glengorm road back in 2010 at around the time it was first reported. It was stretched out on a dry stone wall and was larger than a domestic cat with a large ringed tail. When I stopped my car it ran off towards the forest. I just thought I would check this site to see if anyone had reported seeing it since.

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    Comment by Wendy Watson | February 1, 2015

  8. We have just returned from a weekend in Mull and are convinced that we saw a wildcat on the west side of the island south of Calgary. It was in a remote spot miles from any houses and it had a very broad, bushy tail. The stripes were not very distinct but it was too big to be a domestic cat.
    A brilliant weekend- we also saw a golden eagle on the Treshnish walk.

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    Comment by Fiona McSorland | August 16, 2015

  9. Now this is a late addition – prompted by Winterwatch. On a summer holiday in 1978 we stayed at Glengorm Castle. One day my father and I walked from the Castle northwest across the estate towards the coast and surprised a mother cat and two kittens, which we were convinced were wildcats. The mother had thick coat, small ears and characteristic bushy tail, but what we most remembered was her aggressive behaviour which was unlike anything we had seen in domestic animals – spitting, ears back and coat raised. My father was never one who was likely to exaggerate and indeed spent a reasonable amount of time pouring cold water on my more ambitious wildlife ‘spots’, but he was convinced – even after reading the received wisdom that there are no wildcats on the island.

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    Comment by Graham Meeks | February 4, 2016

  10. Staying at craignure campsite in 2014 we got speaking to the guy in the next caravan and telling each other stories off the wildlife we had seen .he then said wait a second I’ve something to show you he went away and got his camera and on it was a picture of a wildcat.he wouldn’t say where on the island he had taken the picture but he used to go out for drives at night with a torch and this is when he spotted the cat.

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    Comment by David | February 7, 2016

  11. Staying just outside Lochdon in 2000 or 2001 (we were there both years) my wife and I saw a Wildcat at around 23:00 one evening.

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    Comment by Ian | April 16, 2016

  12. My girlfriend and I were on the main campsite at Craignure this august. I got up in the early hours of the morning to go to the toilets. As I entered the toilet block I disturbed a large cat whose markings matched the images I have seen of Scottish wildcats. It ran into the toilets and out underneath the sides of that large tent.

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    Comment by Dave Price | August 6, 2016


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