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A SCIENTIST who helped clone Dolly the sheep is now trying to do the same to rare Scottish wildcats.

Dr Bill Ritchie was part of a team from Edinburgh's Roslin Institute that shocked the world when Dolly was born 15 years ago.

There are around 400 wildcats left in the Highlands and the embryologist believes the project - using eggs from domestic cats - will help save the species.

Dr Ritchie said: "Several cat species have been cloned using the domestic cat, just like the wolf has using dog eggs.

"It is very difficult to find pure wildcats due to their crossing with domestic animals but scientific techniques can select animals which are pure bred. Cells collected by taking a small piece of skin would be cultured to supply cells for the cloning process."

He has just received funding to start the process and hopes to work with Highland Wildlife Park and the Medical Research Council.

Around 150 breeding pairs of wildcats are believed to survive in parts of the Highlands.

They are quite distinct from domestic cats and have a very thick ringed tail with a blunt black tip.

They live on the edge of forests and farmlands where they are experts at hunting rabbits.

Disease, habitat loss and breeding with domestic cats have been blamed for the population fall.

Dr Ritchie's cloning plan may be the only way to secure the creatures' future.

Nature photographer Peter Cairns fears they are on the brink of being wiped out forever.

Peter's incredible pictures show an animal so elusive it took him two years before he was able to approach one. He said: "I used roadkill rabbits to tempt it until I was able to get up close. I still couldn't touch it, however.

"Once I tried to touch it and it nearly took my hand off - it always retained that wildness.

"At a cultural and an ecological level, they are very important.

"The Scottish wildcat is iconic.

Highland clans used them as their emblems because they symbolise wildness, ferocity and strong independence."


JHUNTING HIGH AND LOW J Peter left out dead rabbits to entice cats Nature photographer show the STRIKING J STRIKING Peter's amazing snaps wildcat in its natural environment
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 26, 2011
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