Shad admires his bushy-tailed cousins

There are a few wild cats that give me tail envy, notably the snow leopard with her thick silvery-grey tail or the sand-cat with his bushy black-tipped buff-coloured appendage.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my own long, sleek and silky extremity but there are times when a plush heavy tail would be an advantage.  Like when I want to look tough in front of the tabby cat next door who has the audacity to sit on my front door step, or when I’m curling around John’s legs as part of my ‘have treat, will eat’ strategy.

Another tail of splendour belongs to the Scottish wildcat, a muscular striped feline that would be insulted if you said it looked just like the neighbour’s pet tabby!  The tail is thick and ringed with perfect bands of black and brown while its agility and resourcefulness epitomise the wild spirit of the Highlands that it calls home.  The wildcats in these pictures live at the British Wildlife Centre in Lingfield because they are critically endangered and form part of a conservation and breeding programme.  Their numbers in the wild have decreased due to deforestation, human persecution and cross-mating with feral domestic cats which produces hybrids and dilutes the true wildcat genes.

Last time I went to the British Wildlife Centre I found out that the wildcat is truly untameable and just like a tiger or a leopard it is biologically designed to be happiest in its natural environment.  I cannot imagine surviving outdoors, finding shelter and hunting for food, avoiding predators and caring for young.  Sounds like a lot of work to me!  When the keepers enter the enclosures, the wildcats keep their distance, prowling around the bushes with their ears pointed forward and their supple bodies ready to respond to the slightest noise or movement.  Suddenly their piercing eyes focus unblinking on the keeper as she takes a piece of meat from her bag and throws it into the air where the wildcat leaps swiftly up to catch it and takes it away somewhere private to eat.  I wonder if that’s why I take the food out of my bowl and put it on the floor, because some base instinct within me thinks I should run off with it.  I spent the rest of that day thinking how lucky I am to have all the luxuries that come with being a domesticated feline photographer and entrepreneur.

The Scottish wildcat has overcome many obstacles including lack of food (due to lower numbers of prey animals), habitat loss and human persecution and they have survived for five hundred more years than the British wolf and over a thousand years more than the British bear or lynx.  The last of the British lynx disappeared around 700AD, hunted to extinction for its fur.  As a fur wearing creature myself, I find the notion of humans wearing fur in this modern age to be cruel and unnecessary, and even more so the concept of exterminating an entire species for its skin.  Wear your own skin!

There are some fine specimens of the solitary and secretive Eurasian lynx residing in zoos and sanctuaries across the country as you can see from the photos.  I am excited to say that there is a group of conservationists dedicated to reintroducing the lynx back into the ecosystem of the British Isles in order to restore some balance to the ecology of the forests.  Their presence would help control the deer population which has grown exponentially due to top predators such as wolves and bears becoming extinct, thereby protecting flora and fauna from deer damage and bringing economic wealth to rural areas through wildlife tourism.  I personally would support the introduction of any animal with a tail so lustrous and bushy that it would be the envy of every pussy cat in the land.

Shad hangs out with the red squirrels

Red squirrel numbers have been dwindling for many years in this country since the introduction of the grey squirrels that are more adaptable and carry more body fat so they can survive longer winters.  That must be why I have a little round tummy, it’s in my genes!  Anyway, the greys were introduced from North America in 1876 apparently and they carry a virus which has also contributed to the red squirrels’ decline.  There are a few projects underway in the UK to support the growth of the red squirrel population and you can find out more about this on the Red Squirrel Survival Trust website.  How cute is that?  They’ve got a website!  They’ve even got royalty supporting them.  And I’m not talking about Alan Titchmarsh!  Although some might say he is a gardening supremo and he certainly does his bit to support British wildlife.


The reds in these pictures live at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey and were so adorable that I had to write about them.  As I went through the double gates after John, they must have all been hiding because the enclosure was lacking in squirrels, apparently they don’t like the wet and the cold.  I saw a few chaffinches in the branches of the leafy green oak trees and some little Muntjac deer rummaging around in the undergrowth.  Suddenly my feline hearing picked up the scraping of tiny feet and one by one, red squirrels started to appear on the grass.  Several of them climbed up to the fence to get a good look at me, their little pink noses twitching with curiosity as they fixed me with their beady black eyes.  They seemed to use their tufty ears to express how they were feeling, just like I do, and they dedicated a large amount of their time burying the food that the keeper was giving them.  I watched them scurry along to a well-chosen spot, look around, then pretend to bury their nuts before scurrying off to another patch of ground to bury their grub for real.  This clever little strategy is a good way to put the competition off the scent and stop the others stealing their supplies.  Let’s hope they remember where the nuts are buried!



Shad does the British Wildlife Centre