These are Scottish wildcat kittens, among the last of their kind.
A type of European wildcat found only in the Scottish Highlands,
around 35 individuals remain.
The kittens were photographed for the National Geographic Photo Ark…
a project to document all species in the world’s zoos and wildlife sanctuaries –
including those that are threatened.
National Geographic Animals: Wildlife in Peril
The brother and sister were found alone in the wild,
at seven weeks old.
Conservation organization Wildcat Haven rescued the orphans.
They are now at a rehabilitation center in a large enclosure,
with minimal human contact.
Scottish wildcat are keen hunters, active at dawn and dusk.
They commonly hunt small mammals,
like mice, voles, and hares.
Though they appear similar,
wildcats can be as much as twice the size of domestic cats.
Wildcats have mostly unbroken stripes,
and thick, blunt tails with distinct bands and a black tip.
The kittens’ unique markings will become clearer after they’ve grown up,
like this adult wildcat, filmed in the wild.
They are not afraid of water, unlike domestic cats.
The siblings like to dunk each other –
a behavior also observed in jaguars.
Hybridization, a result of interbreeding with feral and domestic cats,
threatens the Scottish wildcats’ survival.
Conservationists are working to protect the wildcats’ habitat,
and to neuter domestic cats in targeted areas.
The two kittens will be released in the West Highlands in the spring,
when they are old enough to survive in the wild.
Photo Ark aims to use the power of photography
to inspire people to help save species at risk.
When the kittens were filmed,
a “photo tent” hid the photographer from the animals’ view.
Wildcats naturally avoid humans,
a behavior that will help protect the kittens after they rehabilitated and released.