©Elliot Smith


Scientific name: Felis silvestris
The rare wildcat is so similar to a domestic tabby that interbreeding is a serious threat to its survival. Although known as the 'tiger of the Highlands', it is shy and elusive, making it hard to spot.

Species information


Length: 56cm
Tail: 29cm
Weight: 4-5kg
Average lifespan: 10-12 years

Conservation status

Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Priority species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. Listed as a European Protected Species under Annex IV of the European Habitats Directive.

When to see

January to December


The wildcat is one of our rarest and most endangered mammals, and the only wild member of the cat family in the UK. Wildcats are restricted to small parts of the Scottish Highlands, where they feed on rabbits and ground-nesting birds on moorland and in woodlands. They are very shy and are almost entirely nocturnal, lying in their dens in the daytime or if the weather is bad. They mate in February and have one litter of two to six kittens in early summer.

How to identify

The wildcat looks very similar to a very large tabby cat, but it is stockier with a fluffier, blunt tail. Distinct banding on the tail and markings on the body enable spotters to tell true wildcats apart from domestic hybrids.


Only found in the remote Scottish Highlands.

Did you know?

The domestic cat originated from the African wildcat subspecies, Felis sylvestris lybica, around 10,000 years ago, and subsequently spread with humans throughout the world. It can hybridise with the wildcat, causing loss of genetic diversity.