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11 Fierce Facts About Scottish Wildcats

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Each year, over a million tourists descend on northern Scotland, where many hope to catch a glimpse of the legendary Loch Ness Monster. And yet, roaming the countryside is another mysterious beast, one that’s every bit as interwoven into the area’s cultural fabric. It’s a remarkable predator whose bold stripes and sheer ferocity have earned it the nickname “highlands tiger.” Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Scottish wildcat.

1. THIS IS BRITAIN’S LAST NATIVE CAT.

There was a time when many native cats roamed England, Wales, and Scotland. Fourteen thousand years ago, UK forests were home to cave lions. By the time rising sea levels separated Great Britain from the rest of Europe around 8200 years ago, a few Eurasian cat species had settled there. Another feline resident was the lynx, an animal that vanished from the island after the 7th century CE.

At some point, a population of so-called wildcats was also established in Britain. Comparable in both size and appearance to housecats, these creatures are still at large on the island—although habitat loss and overhunting has restricted their range to the northernmost recesses of Scotland. With Britain’s lynx and lions long gone, Scottish wildcats are the only indigenous felines left in the United Kingdom.

2. THERE’S SOME DEBATE OVER HOW THE SCOTTISH WILDCAT SHOULD BE CLASSIFIED.

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You’ll sometimes hear it said that this animal is a subspecies of the wildcat, also known as Felis silvestris. DNA testing has shown that the kitten currently napping on your sofa is itself a subspecies of wildcat, one that scientists call Felis silvestris catus.

It’s believed that the common housecat first emerged around 9000 to 10,000 years ago. The popular pet is directly descended from Felis silvestris lybica, or the “African wildcat.” As its name implies, the animal can be found throughout Africa, plus certain parts of the Arabian Peninsula. Were you to travel eastward from there, you might encounter the aptly-named Asiatic wildcat (Felis silvestris ornate), another subspecies that roams from Central Asia to western India.

This brings us to the European wildcat, Felis silvestris silvestris. Because of its unusually thick coat, the beast looks much bulkier than its Asiatic and African relatives. Also, while the Asian wildcat essentially mates year-round, the European variety only breeds from January to March.

So where do highland tigers fit into the family portrait? Some mammal experts believe that the Scottish wildcat should be regarded as its own subspecies, Felis silvestris grampia. Proponents of this argument point out that Britain’s wildcats look atypically large when compared to those living across the English Channel. However, other scientists disagree and write off the Scottish felines as nothing more than an isolated population of European wildcats.

3. EASTERN AND WESTERN CATS HAVE DIFFERENT DIETARY HABITS.

With their strong jaws, acute night vision, and ears that can rotate independently, highland tigers are formidable predators. Like many cats, they’re also opportunistic feeders. Those living in eastern Scotland primarily dine on rabbits, which can represent up to 70 percent of their diet [PDF]. But in the west, where rabbits are less common, wildcats mostly eat mice and voles instead. Wildcats will also eat assorted birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and small mammals. In rare instances, they’ve even been known to bring down deer fawns. Most prey is killed with a bite to the back of the neck, which either crushes or severs its spine. To dispatch bigger targets, wildcats will often clamp their jaws down onto the windpipe.

4. THEY USE GRASS TO FIGHT PARASITES.

Wildcats are known eat long blades of grass every so often. The dense plants help clear a cat’s digestive tract by forcing indigestible bones, fur, and feathers out of its system. Swallowing grass is also a good way to dislodge parasitic worms, which the cats regularly contract by eating raw meat.

5. SCOTTISH WILDCATS WILL “MOCK CHARGE” WHEN THREATENED.

The highland tiger has an aggressive reputation. John George Wood, a 19th-century science enthusiast, once wrote that “When caught in a trap, [wildcats] fly without hesitation at any person who approaches them, not waiting to be assailed. I have heard many stories of their attacking and seriously wounding a man, when their escape has been cut off.”

Although Wood’s sources may have been exaggerating, the point remains: Wildcats shouldn't be messed with. And yet, they almost never lash out at human beings without warning. Should you make a wildcat feel threatened, the animal’s first response will be to stare you down, arch its back, and hiss like an angry tabby. If that doesn’t work, the feline will start moving toward you, stamping its feet all the while. Known as a “mock charge,” this maneuver is designed to make the cat look as intimidating as possible—if only for a second or two. A moment’s hesitation on the attacker’s part may be all that a cat needs in order to escape.

If all else fails, the cats can bite and claw with unbelievable fierceness. More often than not, the feisty little creatures drive off their foes, sometimes inflicting nasty lacerations in the process. According to the Scottish Wildcat Association, large dogs, park rangers, and ill-prepared veterinarians are among the most common recipients of “non-hunting wildcat attacks.”

6. THE LAST ENGLISH WILDCATS MAY HAVE DISAPPEARED IN THE 19TH CENTURY.

The name “Scottish wildcat” is something of a misnomer. After all, for thousands of years, the animals were distributed throughout Great Britain. Unfortunately, human interference has driven them to the brink of extinction. The Scottish wildcat didn’t enjoy any sort of legal protection until the UK classified it as a protected species in 1988. Before that, trappers on the island had been harvesting their valuable coats since ancient times. As if this weren’t bad enough, the cats were believed to kill livestock en masse, so farmers deliberately killed them. Centuries of persecution—combined with deforestation—drove the felines into Scotland’s most sparsely-populated areas. The last documented sighting of a wildcat on English soil took place in 1849.

7. THE WILDCAT IS OFTEN USED AS A SCOTTISH CLAN EMBLEM.

To many Scots, the highland tiger is a national icon. Nowhere is this fact more apparent than within Scotland’s familial clan system. Among many others, Clan Mackintosh, Clan MacBean, and Clan MacPherson have each incorporated a wildcat into their respective crests. The groups' motto is “Touch not the cat bot a glove,” with the word bot meaning “without” in this context. Sounds like good advice (although some consider it to be even more poetic, and say that the one without the glove is the cat—i.e. claws ready to go).

8. POOP HELPS THEM COMMUNICATE.

Solitary by nature, adult wildcats generally give each other a wide berth outside of the breeding season. Data collected from radio collars have revealed that an average female spends most of its time within a one-square-mile home range. Males are thought to have similar habits.

Your typical highland tiger buries most of its own scat. However, some droppings will be intentionally left exposed in order to mark territory. This is also done for the benefit of other wildcats. By smelling the dung, a passing cat can assess the leaver’s sex, age, and reproductive status.

9. THEY’RE HYBRIDIZING WITH DOMESTIC CATS.

The single greatest threat to the Scottish wildcat’s continued existence is no longer habitat loss or reckless hunting. Today, the real problem is genetic pollution, since the wildcat and housecat can successfully interbreed. Such encounters produce hybrid kittens—and unlike (most) mules, these cats are capable of having babies of their own.

Rampant hybridization has contaminated the Scottish wildcat gene pool to an alarming degree. Some naturalists estimate that just 35 “pure” highland tigers are left in the wild. Within a few generations, the animal could be rendered effectively extinct.

Further complicating matters is a potential epidemic of mistaken identity. To the untrained eye, the Scottish wildcat looks quite similar to the “tabby” breed of housecat. Concerned citizens are having a hard time telling the highland tiger apart from the very animal that’s wiping it out. Under the wrong circumstances, mistaking one for the other may have serious legal repercussions.

“The Scottish wildcat is enshrined as a protected species in British law,” notes conservationist David MacDonald in the above video. “For the law to function … it has to be possible to identify what is a Scottish wildcat.” In the 1990s, government officials tried to prosecute a gamekeeper who had been accused of shooting three wildcats. Yet, because an expert couldn’t confirm that the victims were, in fact, highland tigers and not tabbies, the charge was dismissed.

Fortunately, though, there are a few subtle differences between the wildcat and its domestic counterpart. The most obvious among them has to do with the shape of the tail. Whereas wildcats possess thick, bushy tails, tabbies have fairly slender ones. Also, you’ll never find a purebred highland tiger with spots on its back. Another key difference: In wildcats, the black line that runs down the spine terminates at the base of the tail, and in tabbies, it extends all the way to the tail’s tip [PDF].

10. SOME WANT TO CLONE WILDCATS.

How do you rescue an endangered animal that’s breeding its way into oblivion? Dr. Bill Ritchie sees cloning as a step in the right direction. Ritchie became world-famous as a member of the team that produced Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal to ever be created from an adult cell. In 2011, Ritchie started to research the possibility of cloning some purebred wildcats. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland supported the idea, but as of this writing, no attempt to actually follow through has been made.

11. ONE WAS JUST BORN IN A SCOTTISH ZOO.

In May, the Scottish wildcats at the Chester Zoo in Cheshire—female Einich and male Cromarty—welcomed an adorable kitten, the first to be born at the zoo as part of its Scottish wildcat breeding program. "The arrival of the new kitten is a major boost to the increasingly important captive population in Britain," Tim Rowlands, Chester Zoo’s curator of mammals, said in a statement. "Conservation breeding in zoos is a key element in the wider plan to conserve the species in the UK and, drawing on the unique skills, knowledge and knowhow of the carnivore experts working here, we’re breeding Scottish wildcats to increase the safety net population and hope to release their offspring into the highlands of Scotland in the future."

Above is video of the kitten emerging from the den for the first time. We think you'll agree it's pretty adorable.

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8 Allegedly Cursed Places
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Some of the most picturesque spots in the world hide legends of a curse. Castles, islands, rivers, and more have supposedly suffered spooky misfortunes as the result of a muttered hex cast after a perceived slight—whether it's by a maligned monk or a mischievous pirate. Below are eight such (allegedly) unfortunate locations.

1. A WALL FROM MARGAM ABBEY // WALES

An 800-year-old ruined wall stands on the grounds of a large steelworks in Port Talbot, Wales. The wall is surrounded by a fence and held up by a number of brick buttresses—all because of an ancient curse. The story goes that when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the 16th century, one of the local Cistercian monks evicted from Margam Abbey told the new owners of the site, in a bid to protect it, that if the wall fell, the entire town would fall with it (it's unclear why he would focus on that particular part of the structure). Since then, the townsfolk have tried hard to protect the wall, even as an enormous steelworks was built around it. Rumors abound that the hex-giving monk still haunts the site in a red habit, keeping an eye on his precious wall.

2. ALLOA TOWER // SCOTLAND

Alloa tower in Scotland
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Alloa Tower in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, has reportedly been subject to a curse for hundreds of years. In the 16th century, the Earl of Mar is said to have destroyed the local Cambuskenneth Abbey and taken the stones to build his new palace. The Abbot of Cambuskenneth was so furious he supposedly cast a multi-part curse on the Erskine family—ominously known as “The Doom of Mar." It is said that at least part of the curse has come true over the years, including that three of the children of the Mar family would “never see the light” (three of the earl’s ancestors’ offspring were reportedly born blind). The curse also supposedly predicted that the house would burn down, which occurred in 1800. Another part of the curse: The house would lay in ruins until an ash sapling grew from its roof. Sure enough, around 1820 a sapling was seen sprouting from the roof, and since then the family curse is said to have been lifted.

3. A WORKERS' CEMETERY // EGYPT

In the fall of 2017, archeologists reopened an almost-4500-year-old tomb complex in Giza, Egypt, that contains the remains of hundreds of workers who built the great Pyramid of Giza. The tomb also contains the remains of the supervisor of the workers, who is believed to have added curses to the cemetery to protect it from thieves. One such curse reads: "All people who enter this tomb who will make evil against this tomb and destroy it, may the crocodile be against them in water and snakes against them on land. May the hippopotamus be against them in water, the scorpion against them on land." The complex is now open to the public—who may or may not want to take their chances.

4. RUINS OF THE CHATEAU DE ROCCA SPARVIERA // FRANCE

A chateau just north of the French Riviera may sound like a delightful place to be, but amid the ruins of the Chateau de Rocca-Sparviera—the Castle of the Sparrow-Hawk—lies a disturbing legend. The tale centers around a medieval French queen named Jeanne, who supposedly fled to the castle after her husband was killed. She arrived with two young sons and a monk known to enjoy his drink. One Christmas, she went into the village to hear a midnight mass, and when she returned, she found that the monk had killed her sons in a drunken rage. (In another version of the story, she was served a banquet of her own children, which she unknowingly ate.) According to legend, Jeanne then cursed the castle, saying a bird would never sing nearby. To this day, some travelers report that the ruins are surrounded by an eerie silence.

5. THE PEBBLES OF KOH HINGHAM // THAILAND

Stopped off at a small uninhabited island that, according to Thai mythology, is cursed by the god Tarutao. If anyone dared to even take one pebble off this island they would be forever cursed! 😈 I heard from a local that every year the National Park office receive many stones back via mail from people who want to lift the curse! I was never much of a stone collector anyway... ☻☹☻☹☻ #thailand #kohlanta #kohlipe #kohhingham #islandhopping #islandlife #beachlife #pebbles #beach #speedboat #travelgram #instatraveling #wanderlust #exploringtheglobe #exploretocreate #traveleverywhere #aroundtheworld #exploringtheglobe #travelawesome #wanderer #earth_escape #natgeotravel #serialtraveler #awesomesauce #picoftheday #photooftheday #potd

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The tiny uninhabited island of Koh Hingham, off the coast of Thailand, is blessed with a covering of precious black stones. The stones are not precious because they contain anything valuable in a monetary sense, but because according to Thai mythology the god Tarutao made them so. Tarutao is said to have invoked a curse upon anyone who takes a stone off the island. As a result, every year the national park office that manages the island receives packages from all over the world, sent by tourists returning the stones and attempting to rid themselves of bad luck.

6. INITIALS OUTSIDE THE CHAPEL AT ST. ANDREWS UNIVERSITY // SCOTLAND

The "cursed" PH stones of St. Andrews University
Nuwandalice, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The initials PH are paved into the ground outside St. Salvator’s Chapel at St. Andrews University in Scotland. They mark the spot where 24-year-old preacher and faculty member Patrick Hamilton was burned at the stake for heresy in 1528—an early trigger of the Scottish Reformation. The location is therefore supposed to be cursed, and it is said that any student who stands on the initials is doomed to fail their exams. As a result of this superstition, after graduation day many students purposefully go back to stand on the spot now that all danger of failure has passed.

7. CHARLES ISLAND // CONNECTICUT

Charles Island, Connecticut
Michael Shaheen, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Charles Island lies off the coast of Milford, Connecticut, and is accessible from the mainland via a sandbar when the tide is low. Today it's home to a peaceful nature reserve for local birds, but its long history supposedly includes three curses. The first is said to have been cast in 1639 by the chief of the Paugussett tribe, after the nation was driven off the land by settlers—the chief supposedly cursed any building erected on the land. The second was supposedly laid in 1699 when the pirate Captain William Kidd stopped by the island to bury his booty and protected it with a curse. Shortly afterward, Kidd was caught and executed for his crimes—taking the location of his treasure to his grave.

The third curse is said to have come all the way from Mexico. In 1525, Mexican emperor Guatimozin was tortured by Spaniards hoping to locate Aztec treasure, but he refused to give up its whereabouts. In 1721, a group of sailors from Connecticut supposedly stumbled across the Aztec loot hidden in a cave in Mexico. After an unfortunate journey home in which disaster after disaster slowly depleted the crew, the sole surviving sailor reportedly landed on Charles Island, where he buried the cursed treasure in the hope of negating its hex.

8. THE GHOST TOWN OF BODIE // CALIFORNIA

A house in Bodie, California
Jim Bahn, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Bodie, in California's Sierra Nevadas, sprang up as a result of the gold rush. The town boomed in the late 19th century, with a population nearing 10,000 people. But as the gold seams ran dry, Bodie began a slow and steady decline, hastened by a series of devastating fires. By the 1950s, the place had become a ghost town, and in 1962 it was designated a State Historic Park, with the the buildings kept in a state of “arrested decay." Bodie's sad history has encouraged rumors of a curse, and many visitors to the site who have picked up an abandoned souvenir have reportedly been dogged with bad luck. So much so, the Bodie museum displays numerous letters from tourists who have sent back pilfered booty in the hope of breaking their run of ill fortune.

But the curse didn't start with prospectors or spooked visitors. The rumor apparently originated from rangers at the park, who hoped that the story would prevent visitors from continuing to steal items. In one sense the story worked, since many people are now too scared to pocket artifacts from the site; in another, the rangers have just succeeded in increasing their workload, as they now receive letter after letter expressing regret for taking an item and reporting on the bad luck it caused—further reinforcing the idea of the Bodie curse.

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21 Other Royal Babies Born In The Last 20 Years
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by Kenny Hemphill

At 11:01 a.m. on April 23, 2018, the Royal Family got a new member when it was announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have welcomed their third child, a (yet-to-be-named) boy, who will become fifth in line to the throne. While William and Kate's three children may be the youngsters closest to the throne, they're not the only pint-sized descendants of Queen Elizabeth II to be born in the past 20 years. Here are 21 more of them.

1. ARTHUR CHATTO

Arthur Robert Nathaniel Chatto, who turned 19 years old February 5, is the younger son of Lady Sarah and Daniel Chatto. He is 23rd in the line of succession—and has been raising some royal eyebrows with his penchant for Instagram selfies.

2. CHARLES ARMSTRONG-JONES, VISCOUNT LINLEY

The grandson of Lord Snowden and Princess Margaret, and son of the 2nd Earl and Countess of Snowdon, Charles—who was born on July 1, 1999—is the heir apparent to the Earldom of Snowdon.

3. LADY MARGARITA ARMSTRONG-JONES

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (R) speaks to Serena Armstrong-Jones, Countess of Snowdon (L), David Armstrong-Jones (2L), 2nd Earl of Snowdon, and Lady Margarita Armstrong-Jones (2R).
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Born on May 14, 2002, Lady Margarita is sister to Charles Armstrong-Jones, and great-niece to the Queen. She's 20th in line to the throne.

4. LADY LOUISE WINDSOR

Lady Louise Windsor is the eldest child and only daughter of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex. She was born on November 8, 2003 and is 11th in line for the throne.

5. ELOISE TAYLOR

The third child of Lady Helen and Timothy Taylor, Eloise Olivia Katherine Taylor was born on March 2, 2003 and is 43rd in line for the throne.

6. ESTELLA TAYLOR

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge chats to Estella Taylor on the balcony during Trooping the Colour - Queen Elizabeth II's Birthday Parade, at The Royal Horseguards on June 14, 2014 in London, England
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Eloise's younger sister, Estella Olga Elizabeth Taylor, was born on December 21, 2004. She is the youngest of the four Taylor children and is 44th in succession.

7. JAMES, VISCOUNT SEVERN

The younger child of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, James Alexander Philip Theo Mountbatten-Windsor—or Viscount Severn—was born on December 17, 2007 and is 10th in line for the throne.

8. ALBERT WINDSOR

Albert Louis Philip Edward Windsor, born September 22, 2007, is notable for being the first royal baby to be baptized a Catholic since 1688. He is the son of Lord and Lady Nicholas Windsor, and grandson of the Duke and Duchess of Kent. According to the Act of Settlement, which was passed in 1701, being baptized Catholic would automatically exclude a potential royal from the line of succession. But there was some controversy surrounding this when, up until 2015, the Royal Family website included Albert.

9. XAN WINDSOR

Lord Culloden, Xan Richard Anders Windsor, is son to the Earl of Ulster and Claire Booth, and grandson of the Duke of Gloucester. He was born on March 2, 2007 and is 26th in succession.

10. LEOPOLD WINDSOR

Like his older brother Albert, Leopold Windsor—who was born on September 8, 2009—is not in line to the throne, by virtue of being baptized a Roman Catholic (though he, too, was listed on the Royal Family's website for a time).

11. SAVANNAH PHILLIPS

Autumn Phillips, Isla Phillips, Peter Philips and Savannah Phillips attend Christmas Day Church service at Church of St Mary Magdalene on December 25, 2017 in King's Lynn, England
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Savannah Anne Kathleen Phillips, the Queen's first great-grandchild, was born on December 29, 2010 to Peter Phillips, son of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, and Autumn Kelly. She is 14th in line for the throne.

12. SENNA LEWIS

Senna Kowhai Lewis, who was born on June 2, 2010, is the daughter of Gary and Lady Davina Lewis, elder daughter of Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester. She was a beneficiary of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which abolished the practice of giving sons precedence over daughters in the line of succession, regardless of when they are born. As a result, she is 29th in succession.

13. LYLA GILMAN

Daughter of Lady Rose and George Gilman, and granddaughter of Prince Richard, 2nd Duke of Gloucester, Lyla Beatrix Christabel Gilman was born on May 30, 2010. She is 32nd in succession.

14. COSIMA WINDSOR

Lady Cosima Rose Alexandra Windsor was born on May 20, 2010. She is sister to Lord Culloden, daughter of the Earl of Ulster and Claire Booth, and granddaughter to the Duke of Gloucester. She's 27th in line for the throne.

15. RUFUS GILMAN

Lyla Gilman's brother, Rufus, born in October 2012, is 33rd in line for the throne.

16. TĀNE LEWIS

Tāne Mahuta Lewis, Senna's brother, was named after a giant kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest of the Northland region of New Zealand. He was born on May 25, 2012 and is 30th in line for the throne, following the Succession to the Crown Act 2013.

17. ISLA PHILLIPS

Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Isla Phillips and Peter Phillips attend a Christmas Day church service
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Peter and Autumn Phillips's second and youngest daughter, Isla Elizabeth Phillips, was born on March 29, 2012 and is 15th in succession.

18. MAUD WINDSOR

Maud Elizabeth Daphne Marina Windsor, the daughter of Lord Frederick and Lady Sophie of Windsor and granddaughter of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, was born on August 15, 2013 and is 47th in line for the throne.

19. LOUIS WINDSOR

Louis Arthur Nicholas Felix Windsor, who was born on May 27, 2014, is the youngest child of Lord and Lady Nicholas Windsor, and brother of Leopold and Albert. As he was baptized into the Roman Catholic church, he's not in line to the throne.

20. MIA GRACE TINDALL

Mike Tindall, Zara Tindall and their daughter Mia Tindall pose for a photograph during day three of The Big Feastival at Alex James' Farm on August 28, 2016 in Kingham, Oxfordshire.
Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Daughter of Zara Phillips and her husband, former England rugby player Mike Tindall, Mia Grace Tindall was born on January 17, 2014 and is 17th in the line of succession.

21. ISABELLA WINDSOR

Isabella Alexandra May, the second and youngest daughter of Lord Frederick and Lady Sophie of Windsor, was the last addition to the royal family. In July 2016, she was christened at Kensington Palace wearing the same gown worn by both Prince George and Princess Charlotte (it's a replica of the one that Queen Victoria's children wore). Looking on was celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who is one of Isabella's godparents.

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