Four astonishingly cute and vitally important kittens have been born at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park.

These aren’t just any kittens. They’re Scottish wildcats (Felis silvestris grampia), one of the rarest feline subspecies on the planet. These wildcats—also known as Highland tigers—nearly went extinct due to habitat loss, persecution by farmers and game-bird hunters, and hybridization with feral and domestic cats (F. catus). Today just a few hundred of these critically endangered tabbies live in the wild, many of which now carry hybrid genetics.

That’s where the Highland Wildlife Park comes in. As part of the Scottish Wildcat Action initiative, the park has spent the past few years helping to breed these rare animals in captivity. The new kittens—three from one litter, one from a second—represent the latest victory in that effort.

The kittens were born about two months ago, but made their public debut last week.

With these four new births, the adult wildcats at Highland Wildlife Park have now produced a total of 21 offspring, 19 of which are still living. One kitten died after a congenital defect was discovered in its liver, while another died after it was transferred to another facility. Several other cats have been successfully transferred as part of an attempt to build up breeding populations in other sites and to minimize inbreeding at each location. Eventually, Scottish Wildcat Action hopes to start releasing these captive-bred animals into the wild.

RZSS was not able to confirm the genetic status of the new kittens, but previous reports have suggested that all of the wildcats in their collection bear at least some hybrid genes. Still, they’re about as pure as wildcats are likely to be today and as such they represent the greatest hope for keeping the species from extinction. The four new kittens are the latest step in the slow climb toward what we can hope can be an eventual recovery.

Previously in Extinction Countdown: