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Scottish wildcat interbreeding recent phenomenon, studies find
“It is clear that hybridisation is a result of modern threats common to many of our native species” – Jo Howard-McCombe.
The species mostly avoided domestic cats until about 60 years ago.

Two newly published studies have revealed that European wildcats in Scotland did not begin to significantly interbreed with domestic cats until the mid 20th century.

The researchers, based at universities in the UK and Germany, looked at the genome sequences of 48 modern cats and samples from 258 historic cats found at 85 archaeological sites.

They found that although domestic cats have been living in Britain for more than 2,000 years, until 1956 no individual wildcats in Scotland had more than approximately 5 per cent domestic cat ancestry.

Since then, the proportion of domestic cat ancestry has rapidly increased. In modern individuals, the proportion ranged from 11 per cent to 74 per cent.

However, the research revealed that the captive wildcat population, established in the 1960s, has avoided interbreeding to the same extent, with an average domestic cat ancestry of 18 per cent.

The amount of hybridisation is important for conservationists. Although wildcats are a legally protected species in the UK, the protection does not extend to hybrid cats.

The researchers have suggested that the sudden increase in interbreeding may have been due to the decline in numbers of wildcats meaning they had reduced opportunities to mate with other wildcats.

Jo Howard-McCombe, of the University of Bristol, said: “It is clear that hybridisation is a result of modern threats common to many of our native species.

"Habitat loss and persecution have pushed wildcats to the brink of extinction in Britain.

"It is fascinating that we can use genetic data to look back at their population history, and use what we have learnt to protect Scottish wildcats.”

The two studies have been published in Current Biology.

Image © Shutterstock

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VMG president joins House of Lords

News Story 1
 Miles Russell, president of the Veterinary Management Group (VMG), has been elected to the House of Lords as a crossbench hereditary peer.

He will join Lord Trees as a representative of the veterinary sector in the second chamber of the UK parliament.

Lord Russell said: "Those of us working in the animal health and veterinary sectors are only too aware of the importance of the work we do and the challenges we face.

"I will use my platform in the House of Lords to increase understanding of our sectors and to promote positive change." 

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News Shorts
Sixth case of bluetongue confirmed

A sixth case of bluetongue virus serotype 3 has been confirmed in the UK.

The case was detected in an animal on a premises linked to one of the farms within the Temporary Control Zone (TCZ) currently in place near Canterbury, Kent.

In response, the Animal and Plant Health Agency has extended the TCZ. Investigations into the spread of the disease are ongoing.

The cases in Kent come at a time when a new strain of the virus has spread rapidly across farms in the Netherlands. Both the Government and the British Veterinary Association have urged livestock keepers to remain vigilant.

Bluetongue is a notifiable disease and suspected cases must be reported immediately on 03000 200 301 in England or 03003 038 268 in Wales. In Scotland, possible cases should be reported to the local field services office.