Leaders of a wildlife group have blasted yobs for smashing up cameras and putting a North-east wildcat conservation project at risk.
Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) spoke out after vandals damaged cameras and a cage trap – and stole information from a research project aiming to protect animals.
It happened in Aberdeenshire’s Clashindarroch Forest, near Huntly, at some point between March 1 and March 27.
SWA’s priorities area manager, Dr Roo Campbell, said he was extremely disappointed by what had happened.
He added: “Our conservation work is crucial to the continued survival of the critically endangered Scottish wildcat.
“Those responsible have not only damaged our equipment and robbed the project of vital scientific information but they have also curtailed work crucial to the conservation of the Scottish wildcat.
“What is particularly disappointing is the theft of our volunteers’ information.
“We have nearly 50 local people generously giving their time to help the project and they are devastated that their hard work has been stolen.
“We would appeal to anyone with information to get in touch with the police citing reference number 2301 of March 27.”
SWA staff and volunteers discovered the crime on March 27 and made it public today.
Cameras used to document wildcat numbers were vandalised or stolen and a cage trap used to catch wildcats so they can be neutered and given a health check was damaged.
At the time of the damage, the cage trap was not in operation due to the wildcat breeding season.
The forest is the site of a winter wildlife survey which SWA is doing with the support of Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland.
An SWA spokesman added: “The theft of this information jeopardises the largest scientific survey ever undertaken for this species in the UK.
“The lost and damaged equipment will cost hundreds of pounds to replace – money which could have been better spent on practical work to protect wildcats like the neutering and vaccination of feral and obviously hybridised cats.
SWA, a project involving over 20 partner organisations, was set up in 2015 to help save the highly endangered species from extinction.
The project is supported by the Scottish Government and Heritage Lottery Fund.