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Police investigate rewilding group over dubious claims

North Wales Police is making enquiries into 'significant fundraising' by Wildcat Haven after an injured kitten turned out to be a domestic tabby.


Wildcats are on the brink of extinction in Scotland

A rewilding group is under police investigation after raising funds for a ‘Scottish wildcat’ that turned out to be a domestic tabby.

Wildcat Haven first came to police attention when it began fundraising for the animal. The group claimed that ‘Finlay’ was an injured wildcat kitten and that it needed financial support to rehabilitate him and prepare the cat for release back into the wild. However, an investigation established that Wildcat Haven did not have the licences needed to keep a wildcat in captivity and police seized the animal.

Troubled history

Wildcat Haven has had a troubled history. In 2020, director Paul O’Donoghue brought an unsuccessful defamation action against former Green MSP Andy Wightman. Mr O’Donoghue also operated the Lynx Trust UK, whose proposal to reintroduce lynx to the Kielder area in Northumberland was decisively rejected and had to be withdrawn. (Read Alasdair Mitchell’s recent article on rewilding.)

Finlay’s seizure by authorities sparked a furious attempt to have the cat returned to Wildcat Haven, with a ‘Justice for Finlay’ campaign launched and a petition drafted that was signed more than a million times. However, North Wales Police had Finlay examined by experts, who judged that he was not in fact a wildcat, but was a domestic tabby that may have some wildcat genes. As no licence is required to own a normal domestic cat, police returned the animal to Wildcat Haven.

However, this did not end the police investigation. In a statement, North Wales Police said: “The force is aware of significant fundraising in relation to this domestic cat being a Scottish wildcat. A 43-year-old man is assisting with enquiries and, as this investigation is still ongoing, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”

Shooting Times was able to determine that in 2020 the group, which has a little over £100,000 in assets, had paid £89,000 in consultancy fees to two companies, both of which are controlled by Mr O’Donoghue or a member of his family. Another company, Wildcat Haven Enterprises, also made a £20,000 payment to a company controlled by Mr O’Donoghue in 2019. There is no suggestion that these payments are illegal.