Paul o’donoghue chester university

By | 8th May 2017

Paul o’donoghue chester university

Lecturer Paul O’Donoghue

Dr Paul O’Donoghue is no longer with the University of Chester. He left the University on 4th February 2016.

  Geneticists from the University of Chester are developing a test that could crack the Scottish wildcat’s DNA code and save one of Britain’s rarest and most iconic species from extinction.

A Scottish wildcat - but is it a hybrid or a purebred? Picture supplied by Neville Buck, of The Aspinall Foundation.
A Scottish wildcat – but is it a hybrid or a purebred? Picture supplied by Neville Buck, of The Aspinall Foundation.

If we can identify enough wildcats to develop a viable breeding programme, we can then look at ways of conserving this beautiful species and preventing one of Britain’s most incredible, iconic animals from disappearing from the face of the earth.

Paul o’donoghue chester university
Dr Paul O”Donoghue

 To date there has been no truly definitive way of identifying whether existing individual cats are pure-bred or hybrids and the latest  estimates currently suggest there are, at best, only 100 pure Scottish wildcats remaining in the wild, at worst, none.

“The Scottish wildcat is heading for imminent extinction, primarily due to hybridisation with feral, domestic cats,” explains Dr Paul O’Donoghue, Senior Lecturer in Biology at the University (pictured inset).

While there are ways of telling the difference between hybrids and pure-breds – such as the fusion of bones on its head, the shape of its jaw, and the length of its gut – these can only be examined once the animal is dead.

With living wildcats, identification currently involves examining their coat characteristics (pelage), which is difficult to do as camera trap images can be unreliable, often providing unclear or inconclusive pictures of the elusive creatures.

“Due to such difficulty in distinguishing pure wildcats from hybrids, there are currently no truly meaningful conservation activities being carried out to address this issue,” said Dr O’Donoghue.