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April 12, 2016

National Lottery and Taxpayer Money Linked to Cat Slaughter Plans

Wildcat Haven

  • Adrian Bennett/Wildcat Haven

Documents released via a Freedom of Information request reveal the Scottish Wildcat Action Plan (the “Action Plan”), which receives funding from the taxpayer and the National Lottery Heritage Fund amongst other sources, and includes Scottish Natural Heritage, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Edinburgh Zoo, Chester Zoo and the Scottish Government, plans to fatally shoot caged feral cats in the head with shotguns, whilst failing to make this clear to its supporting public.

Conservation organisation Wildcat Haven, which is supported by Humane Society International/UK, has released a range of documents obtained from Scottish Government agency Scottish Natural Heritage via a Freedom of Information request. The documents include minutes, emails and policies relating to conservation of the Scottish wildcat, which is threatened by cross-mating, or hybridisation, with domestic and feral cats.

The £2 million, National Lottery Heritage Fund and tax-funded Scottish Wildcat Action Plan project, also known as “Save Our Wildcats”, which is driven by SNH and RZSS and has been signed off by Scottish Environment Minister Aileen McLeod, encourages the public to donate money and report sightings of feral domestic cats, assuring that neutering will be used to reduce cross-mating with wildcats. Neutering is the only feral cat control method listed in the publicly published Action Plan on SNH's website (page 8).

However, the FOI shows that instead of neutering feral cats, a trapping licence issued by SNH to RZSS allowing them to fulfil commitments to the Action Plan dictates that all feral cats caught under it will be shot by gamekeepers whilst in the cage trap (page 12 first para RZSS licence application document).

The license application is supported by a detailed document authored by RZSS, setting out  “Humane Dispatch Protocols” including the recommendation that feral cats be dispatched “...with a 12 bore shotgun using number three shot... positioned 5m from the trap, aiming at the head and front of shoulder”. (page 21 last para RZSS licence application document).

The documents also note that any cats brought to the project as suspected wildcats will be killed if they do not meet the standards of a wildcat genetic test developed by RZSS. (“Opportunistic Acquisition” pages 12/13 and 24 of RZSS licence application document).

Wildcat Haven, which submitted the FOI request about the Scottish Wildcat Action Plan, runs a project based entirely on compassionate conservation. It has created a vast, 800 square mile safe region in the West Highlands, by humanely sterilising the domestic and feral cat population, in partnership with landowners and local communities.

Wildcat Haven and its lawyers held a meeting with SNH and RZSS Edinburgh Zoo in March to raise a range of concerns relating to the Action Plan, and requested that the Action Plan be suspended pending investigation. This request was refused, and RZSS Edinburgh Zoo confirmed that it had already killed feral domestic cats under the license after they failed genetic tests.

Further documents disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act show that the Action Plan receives funding from the taxpayer, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and several other sources. SNH confirmed in the meeting with Wildcat Haven that the National Lottery Heritage Fund was fully aware of all activities taking place under the Action Plan.

Dr Paul O'Donoghue, chief scientific advisor to Wildcat Haven, and previously an advisor to Scottish Wildcat Action, having left the project in 2014 due to grave concerns with the Action Plan, commented: ‘’I am deeply saddened  to discover the animal welfare compromises that are being made. Neutering has proven to be incredibly effective in the Wildcat Haven fieldwork area for humanely managing feral cat populations and Scottish Natural Heritage are fully aware of the results from our work under their licence; hundreds of square miles of safe habitat for wildcats.

“In contrast, we have seen no evidence that the approach taken by the Action Plan to date has reduced the risk posed to wildcats from feral cats in any of its priority areas. Instead of following the evidence we have provided to them, Scottish Natural Heritage has chosen to allow the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland to trap feral cats, only to shoot them in the face with a shotgun. It is barbaric and entirely unnecessary. This process also carries an inevitable risk to wildcats being shot through misidentification in the trap, and an equally unacceptable risk that someone’s pet could be killed in this way. We urge Scottish Natural Heritage to place a moratorium on the Scottish Wildcat Action Plan in its current form in order to deal properly with the wide range of concerns we have raised.”

Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/UK, which supports the Wildcat Haven project, added: “We are appalled and dismayed that feral cats in Scotland are facing death in the name of 'conservation' under protocols authored by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. I am sure the public will be rightly shocked by this sad revelation. Wildcat Haven has proven that feral cats can be sterilised, not shot, to protect Scottish wildcats in their natural habitat. I’ve had the opportunity to see Wildcat Haven’s team in action as they create support in communities and implement humane approaches. Given Wildcat Haven’s successes, it seems illogical that the Scottish Government's Action Plan insists on compromising animal welfare in this way, whilst simultaneously purporting to support humane feral cat controls. We join Wildcat Haven in urging for an immediate suspension of this lethal plan.”

Scottish Wildcat Action, which also uses the identities “Save Our Wildcats” and “The Scottish Wildcat Action Plan Group,” includes a wide range of organisations including Scottish Natural Heritage, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park), Scottish Government, Chester Zoo, Scottish Wildlife Trust, National Trust for Scotland and The Royal School of Veterinary Studies Edinburgh University.

Media contacts:

HSI/UK: Wendy Higgins, whiggins@hsi.org, +44(0)7989 972 423

Wildcat Haven: Steve Piper, media@wildcathaven.co.uk

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