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Could DNA test to define Scotland’s pure-bred wildcats save the species?

22nd May 2013 | Posted by Babette de Jonge

A biologist from University of Chester has developed a genetic test which addresses the fundamental issue in the conservation of the Scottish wildcat – how can we identify pure wildcats from hybrids?

Dr O’Donoghue’s team at Chester has spent two years working on the research with data analysts at FIOS Genomics in Edinburgh to complete the cutting edge test which is the first of its kind in the world.

Until now there has been no truly definitive way of identifying whether existing individual cats are pure wildcats or hybrids and estimates currently suggest there are, at best, only 100 pure Scottish wildcats remaining in the wild – this test could prove to be a vital tool in the fight to save the species.

The work was funded with support from the Aspinall Foundation, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, the Bosack Kruger Foundation and the Summerlee Foundation.

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Borneo Bay Cat (Pardofelis Badia)

One of the world’s least-known and most endangered wild cats, the bay cat, has been photographed by Panthera grantees Jedediah Brodie (Universiti Malaysia Sabah/ University of British Columbia) and Anthony Giordano (S.P.E.C.I.E.S/Texas Tech University). Their photograph is the first record of this very elusive cat in the Borneo highlands, at 1460 meters (approximately 4,800 feet).

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Borneo’s bay cat is so elusive that it took over a century before researchers got a chance to study a live one in detail. Covered in striking, rust-red fur with white under the tail and face stripes, this cat was officially named in 1874 on the basis of a skull and torn skin sent to England by the famous naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Naturalists didn’t have a chance to study a live one until a bay cat was captured in 1992, and the cat remains so difficult to find that researchers know very little about how this secretive cat actually lives. The fact that the cat is so difficult to find is all the more frustrating because conservationists list the felid as endangered. The deforestation of Borneo may wipe out the bay cat before scientists get a chance to find out more about it.

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