Britain’s “first large-scale” conservation breeding centre for rare Scottish wildcats is to be created in the Highlands.
The project could eventually see up to 20 captive-bred wildcats a year released into the Cairngorms, one of the last strongholds for the species.
Longer term, cats could be released at other Scottish locations.
The new centre is to be set up at Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore.
Conservationists have warned the species is on the brink of extinction.
Breeding with feral domestic cats, disease and habitat loss have reduced their numbers.
The “breed and release” Saving Wildcats project involves a number of organisations, including the Cairngorms National Park Authority and Forestry and Land Scotland. It aims to build on work already done by the Scottish Wildcat Action initiative.
The centre would have “wildcat experts and a dedicated veterinary unit”.
All released wildcats would be fitted with a GPS collar so their movements and behaviour could be recorded.
The project would also seek to tackle the problems behind the decline in the species.