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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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Bristol uni celebrates 75 years of teaching vets

News Story 1
 The University of Bristol's veterinary school is celebrating 75 years of educating veterinary students.

Since the first group of students were admitted in October 1949, the school has seen more than 5,000 veterinary students graduate.

Professor Jeremy Tavare, pro vice-chancellor and executive dean for the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, said: "I'm delighted to be celebrating Bristol Veterinary School's 75 years.

"Its excellence in teaching and research has resulted in greater understanding and some real-world changes benefiting the health and welfare of both animals and humans, which is testament to the school's remarkable staff, students and graduates." 

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News Shorts
RCVS HQ to temporarily relocate

The headquarters of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) is to move temporarily, ahead of its permanent relocation later in the year.

From Monday, 26 February 2024, RCVS' temporary headquarters will be at 2 Waterhouse Square, Holborn, London. This is within walking distance of its current rented offices at The Cursitor, Chancery Lane.

RCVS have been based at The Cursitor since February 2022, following the sale of its Westminster premises the previous March.

However, unforeseen circumstances relating to workspace rental company WeWork filing for bankruptcy means The Cursitor will no longer operate as a WeWork space. The new temporary location is still owned by WeWork.

RCVS anticipates that it will move into its permanent location at Hardwick Street, Clerkenwell, later on in the year.