While populations of wild cat species are disappearing almost everywhere they are found from lions, and leopards to Critically Endangered tiger subspecies, house cats have more than narrowed in on that ubiquitous barking mammal, the dog, as the most popular companion animal in peoples’ homes.
Unfortunately, it seems that free-roaming cat populations like strays and feral cat communities are booming to the fear of wildlife conservationists—including those whose livelihoods are all about protecting the “big” cats.
Although feral dogs and other free-roaming domestic canids are also negatively impacting wildlife, dogs likely take much less of a toll on smaller ‘furry’ and ‘flighted’ fauna because they are not strict carnivores like cats or thought to be so hard-wired as far as predators go. Nor are they nearly as agile.
(As you can see in this photo on the right of a cat who seems to have befriended a barn owl, cats aren’t always the enemy of wildlife, or are they?)
The future of cats, big and small, remains uncertain on this planet as they attempt to co-exist with humans in increasingly smaller spaces. Whether they are sitting on our laps, navigating dense jungles and barren wild lands in pursuit of young hoofed mammals and smaller prey species or blocking safari traffic while sprawled out in the middle of the road, they are, dependent on size, either our companions or intriguing and majestic co-inhabitants of Earth.
Cats may have adapted to some extent to non-native landscapes with their awesome physiques—built for predation on just about anything that moves, but we can only expect so much of them.
With the exception of Antarctica, Australia and few island archipelagos, domestic cats are native to just about every place. Where they are not indigenous, they have been introduced purposely such as on the island continent of Australia, where they have since wreaked havoc on native fauna, including small mammalian pests for which they were introduced to eradicate in the first place.
Unfortunately, and to no fault of their own, cats have jeopardized the future of an array of non-feline wildlife species due to the the reckless forethought of colonial peoples, rendering some of these prey species extinct, if not conservation-sensitive.
From the wide-ranging Afro-Asian leopards (Panthera pardus spp.) to the “barely ranging” Spanish lynx, cat species are fairly successful as a taxonomic group. Cats are carnivorans (i.e. mammalian carnivores) and they are usually keystone predators and considered flagship species wherever they occur. There are 37 species of wild cats and a great majority of them are found on one continent—Asia.
Hopefully, we can find new measures to control problems associated with free-roaming domestic cat populations before it is too late for the pantherine lineage—the cats we call the “big cats,” and other wild cat species.
As I stated recently, I am a proponent of a “no kill” nation, if not a “no kill” world and I hope we seek humane methods to save big and small cats wherever they call home.
Fortunately, there is some good news concerning free-roaming cat control:
“As I mentioned in an earlier post, “a recent study suggests that vasectomized or hysterectomized (TVHR) cat populations are even ‘less sustainable’ or easier to extinguish than TNR populations. In fact, in a blog post summarizing the study, Nat Geo News staff writer Christine Dell’Amore reported the following:
‘The results showed that if 35 percent of a cat population underwent TVHR, that population would be reduced by half and would disappear in 11 years. Alternatively, if the cat population underwent TNR, 82 percent of cats would need to be captured and neutered in order to eliminate the colony in 11 years.'”
This is promising new for cats of all sizes.
(Photos belong to the National Geographic Society)