Critically endangered wildcats are being released into the UK wild in a bid to save them from extinction.

Saving Wildcats (#SWAforLife) is a European partnership project dedicated to UK wildcat conservation and recovery.

They aim to prevent the extinction of wildcats by breeding and releasing them into the wild.

Gordon Buchanan, a wildlife filmmaker and presenter, said: “The thought of never having the chance to film or photograph the iconic wildcat in the Scottish highlands is a deeply saddening thought.

"We must value this incredible species and do everything we can to ensure its survival”

Following a pre-release training programme to prepare for life in the wild, 20 wildcats will be released each year, potentially in an area within the Cairngorms National Park.

All released wildcats will wear a special (GPS) collar so their movements and behaviour can be recorded.

Wildcats in the UK

The Scottish wildcat is one of the UK's most elusive carnivores and the only native member of the cat family still found in our wild. It is also a European-protected species.

The wildcat would have been found throughout mainland Britain had they not been slaughtered for centuries. Continued threats to the Scottish wildcat population include habitat loss, interbreeding with domestic cats, and being hunted as vermin.

In the longer term, wildcat releases will extend to other locations in Scotland. The centre could also support other well-planned efforts across the UK.

The Saving Wildcats team has already seen encouraging behaviour from the wildcats, including signs of hunting, pouncing and stalking.

Recommended reading:

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Eleven endangered Scottish wildcat kittens born at conservation centre

Wildcats to be released in Cairngorms after licence approved

To follow the progress of the Saving Wildcats project, click here.

Once they are released into the wild, the team will be out in the field monitoring their well-being six days a week, where they will be able to pick up vital data from GPS collars worn by the animals.

The conservation breeding and release of wildcats is being carried out by the Saving Wildcats partnership led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) in collaboration with NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS), The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), Norden's Ark and Junta de Andalucía.

This project brings together the expertise and skills of national and international organisations.