WILDCATS LEFT IN SCOTLAND LATIN NAME; ON THE EDGE OF EXTINCTION Experts fear pure-bred animals are just months from being wiped out.
THE Scottish wildcat may be extinct in the wild within months, scientists fear.
Experts claim there are only 35 left roaming the Highlands - making the species among the world's most endangered.
According to the Zoological Society of London, that figure would make them as rare as Amur tigers and the Sumatran rhino.
And if true, the population is less than a tenth of previous estimates.
A team put together by the Scottish Wildcat Association (SWA) reviewed 2000 records of camera trap sightings, eyewitness reports and road kills of the cats.
They say that disease and interbreeding with domestic and feral cats are among the main threats to numbers of pure-bred wildcats.
The SWA said licensed trapping of the mammals should be allowed so blood samples could be taken in an effort to better understand the state of the population.
They have also suggested relocating pure wildcats to areas where there are fewer risks.
Following the SWA team's assessment of records, they calculated that with around 3500 hybrid wildcats in Scotland, just 35 pure animals remain in the wild.
SWA chairman Steve Piper said: "However you juggle the figures it's hard to find anything positive.
"If you ignore the eyewitness sightings because they're unreliable, the numbers get even worse.
"Even if you decide the population of hybrids is larger, you have to multiply it to impossible levels to get to the commonly quoted figure of 400 wildcats.
"The overwhelming evidence is that the wildcat is going to be extinct within months. Anything else is blind hope."
Wildcats are at least 50 per cent bigger than domestic cats and can be identified by the distinctive dark rings on their thick tails.
Piper said the SWA and Oxford University were sending people to Caithness and Sutherland, which he said was the one large area that had not been looked at in any real detail.
He said: "If we find wildcats, it raises new issues. They will be hard to protect in an expanse like Sutherland.
"Realistically we need to relocate them somewhere they can be protected or put a vast amount of money and resources into the region to keep wildcats away from hybrids and ferals."
Scottish Natural Heritage said their action plan would seek to bring together all those interested in their conservation.
A spokesman added: "The evidence points to wildcat populations being in a dangerous state. "The limited information available provides an uncertain basis from which to state precisely how many animals may be living in the wild.
"This is something the action plan might seek to address."
ENDANGERED 3 The pure Scottish wildcat could soon be a thing of the past