Rare Scottish wildcat kitten saved from ‘death’s door’ after rescuer mistakes it for domestic cat

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A man who rescued a tiny kitten he found freezing and struggling in the snow was surprised to hear that he had actually contributed to the preservation of an endangered species on Wednesday.

Award-winning chef Pete Macnab was out for a socially-distanced stroll with his 11-week-old son and good friend when they came across the poorly kitten in Huntly’s Cave, north of Grantown in Moray.

Reaching out on social media in a bid to reunite the creature – assumed to be a domestic cat – with its owner, Mr Macnab described it as “struggling to move” and “baltic with the snow.”

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After carrying the kitten three miles back to the nearest vets, who confirmed the kitten was on “death’s door” and suffering from hypothermia, Mr Macnab and his friend learned they had saved the life of an endangered species. 

Also dubbed Highland tigers, wildcats look similar to large domestic cats but are larger and stockier with a bushy tail.

Macnab, 32, told The : “It was an amazing experience – my friend had hoped that if it was unclaimed, he could have had the cat returned, after a mild bonding session with the cat carrying it for such a length!

“He was secretly disappointed to hear it was in fact a wildcat, and was unable to be returned.”

Instead, the female kitten, dubbed ‘Huntleigh’ after the name of the spot where she was rescued, has been passed to the proper authorities for further treatment.

‘Huntleigh’ was rescued by Pete Mcnab and friend Piotrek Peretko

Mr Macnab added: “The vet said it was in a very poorly state. It was sodden through, couldn’t stand up, and in a severe state of distress – surrounded by a circle of intimidating nosey sheep when we found it.

“But now the cat has been passed to the local strathspey cat protection service who plan to rehabilitate and release the cat back into the wild.”

A report published in 2019 warned wildcats in Scotland are “at the brink of extinction”.

The study, commissioned by the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan (SWCAP) Steering Group, said there was no longer a viable wildcat population in Scotland.

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However, partnership project ‘Saving Wildcats’ led by Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and based at the charity’s second site, Highland Wildlife Park, is doing what it can to boost the wildcat population.

The conservation breeding and release of wildcats is being carried out by the Saving Wildcats partnership led by RZSS in collaboration with NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS), The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), Norden’s Ark and Junta de Andalucia.

Mr Macnab, who recently took on the role of general manager at the Garth Hotel, said he hopes the tale will inspire others to head out into the great outdoors, knowing firsthand that you may well find something unexpected.

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