Australian Feral Cat Evolving Into A True Wildcat?

Giant Australian Feral CatThe process of the unraveling of the domestication of the cat seems to be taking place in parts of Australia. Stray cats are becoming feral and the feral cats are becoming bigger and smarter. They are looking and behaving like their wildcat ancestor. They may even be a better predator than the wildcat. They are entering a phase of reverse evolution, turning the clock back 10,000 years to return to their roots and become a modern version of the Near Eastern Wildcat, felis silvestris lybica. I would expect the new wildcat to be superior to the Near Eastern Wildcat. The taxonomists would have to classified it as a new subspecies of wildcat.

What I have said in the first paragraph is part fiction and part fact. The Australian authorities are genuinely concerned about super feral cats. They are obsessed with them and abusing them. Super feral cats are very similar to the species called the wildcat in behavior and skills. The outback in Australia is vast. People population densities are very low. There is plenty of prey for a modern day wildcat. The super-feral-cat/wildcat can thrive under these conditions. By domestic cat standards, they are able to claim very large home ranges – territories that they regard as their home.

Officially there are no wild cat species in Australia but the way things are developing, perhaps one day there may be. The Aussie super-feral-cat story is an example of the early stages of reverse evolution or the undomestication of the domestic cat. Also, the super feral cat makes for good sport hunting for Aussie’s who like to shoot at something.

Note: there are stories of leopard-sized feral cats in Australia.  I really don’t think this is realistic. I don’t even think they are hybrids. They are just fiction.

I’d like to thank Harvey Harrison for the idea behind this article.

If the cat is undomesticating itself in parts of Australia, it begs the question whether domestication of the wildcat would take place today.

Would domestication of the wildcat take place today?

The wildcat, today, would not drift into domestication because the original conditions under which cat domestication took place hardly exist.

The original act of domestication, about 10,000 years ago, is described as a “mutual arrangement” or agreement because both human and cat benefited. The Near Eastern Wildcat found life easier because prey was more abundant near grain stores. The farmer became more efficient because his grain was protected.

The circumstances have changed dramatically. Full-time indoor cats being fed commercially prepared dry kibble is not what the cat agreed! What the domestic cat wants is as natural a life as possible because he is made for that.

Where there is the opportunity, the domestic cat could and would revert to the wildcat but it would take a long time. It could be argued that every domestic cat born has to be domesticated through socialization during the first weeks. In other words domestication is not hard wired.

Of course, you cannot place a domestic cat outside and expect him to survive. A few will. Most will perish. Their skills are too rusty. However, the stray cat turns feral and over time offspring evolve into super skilled predators of abundant wildlife. They eat well and grow strong. They have a better life. On that basis the domestic cat would no longer agree to be domesticated.

One last, important, point: people kill far more wildlife than super feral cats through their rampant activities which invariable includes the destruction of habitat and prey items that sustain wildlife. People should be less hypocritical on the subject of wildlife conservation and the damage done by feral cats.

Note: I have provided a full credit and link to the original picture on this page as “payment” for publishing it in the interests of trying to improve our knowledge of cats.

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Australian Feral Cat Evolving Into A True Wildcat? — 13 Comments

  1. A very good article Michael. I am pleased that my observations have struck a chord.
    I imagine these new Australian “wildcats” may have a beneficial effect on the ecology. Creepy-crawlies abound in the outback which are not much use for anything except food. They eat a lot of seeds and small plants which are thus prevented from growing up into good cover and removing potential food and habitat for birds. I hope the aborigines eventually realise that and leave the cats alone. I wonder if there is any evidence of cat predation on Koalas and other small animals. Domestic cats do not hunt or kill domestic fowl. It’s not that far- fetched to suppose these new “wildcats” are averse to killing the strange marsupials of Australia. Research needs to be done on this. We can’t be guided by wide-sweeping accusations of cats killing-off native species without reliable observations. That wildly exaggerated Smithsonian report shows the need for a serious study , not the unfounded claims of cat haters.

    • Thanks Harvey.

      We can’t be guided by wide-sweeping accusations of cats killing-off native species without reliable observations.

      I think this is a very important statement. We need a proper, objective, assessment that includes people. Some scientists are too eager to blame cats. Like all people, some scientists don’t like cats and it shows in their work.

  2. I have wondered from time to time if feral cats could actually ever completely revert to wildcat status. I think this is very possible and in this case, very probably. As you said in your article, there is a lot of room for these super-feral’s to thrive in. Great article!

    • I am pleased that you see the possibility. It is something that is rarely, if ever, said but it makes sense. Feral cats are an intermediate state between domestic and wild cat. If feral cats are left alone long enough and have territory that is devoid of people and plenty of prey it seems natural that, over many years, they will end up being a new sort of wild cat species.

  3. Messybeast.com covers the matter of cat predation in Australia. The coverage is very thorough and it will take considerable time to read it carefully. It also covers the matter of surveys which are designed only to provide convincing but flawed “proof” and inaccurate figures. What is not borne in mind by most people is that Australia has been protected from evolution that took place in the rest of the world. Species that would normally have become extinct because of a whole host of deficiencies were able to survive and prosper in Australia due to sparsity of predators. The Dingo only arrived in Australia 3,500 years ago from SE Asia but we do not know what affect they had on the marsupial population except that many (those that survived to this day)do not seem to have been endangered by it. The case for cats endangering the survivability of native species is not at all clear since their prey is mostly imported species, rabbits, sparrows, rats, mice, etc., which compete with native species for food and habitat. http://www.messybeast.com/auspredicament.htm

  4. Interesting article, Michael. What intrigues me is the size of the cats. I wonder how many generations it has take for them to evolve to this size. Natural selection seems to be favoring a bigger and bigger version of the “basic” domestic cat, without changing the “looks”, otherwise. I mean the basic proportions. (Am I correct on the latter point?) My knowledge, such as it is, indicates that when cats F.f. were domesticated (as you say to benefit of cat and human) they were about the size of what we now call the domestic cat. So, intriguing to me as a biologist is that the cats are not “reverting” to what they were before (small but wild). Course, it depends on time frame here.

    Hope above makes a sort of sense. Just scratching my head, and thinking hmmm…..

    • You make complete sense. Although this ginger, super feral cat in the picture probably weighs about 20 pounds or so at a guess. That is at the top end of the weight range of the European wildcat. So, I am not sure they are evolving to be bigger than the wildcat although it is possible and if so it is probably because prey source is good and they have been left alone. They could evolve into a new subspecies of wildcat that is larger than the original. I think the Aussies should be happy about that as it would give them their very first Australian wild cat species.

  5. Hi Valley Girl. Good point. They appear to be evolving forwards into a new wildcat type subspecies, bigger than existing related cats. Having said that I have genetically pure Turkish cats called the Ankara kedisi. The males can weigh up to 9kg and presently I have 2 that weigh over 6 kg. But those Australian ferals get huge whilst living under harsh conditions without the benefits of de-worming or any veterinary care, no hot and cold running water, or room service like my cats get. It’s interesting to note that feral Australian cats also have some DNA evidence of Siamese-like cats introduced from SE Asia much earlier than the first European settlers.

  6. I won’t be surprised if a few American breeders capture a few “Australian Feral Cats” and breed them into a new cat species, “THE AUSTRALIAN FERAL”.The cat shown in the photo is huge and would definitely be a cat fanciers envy if preferring wild cat hybrids like the “Bengal cat’ and the “Savannah cat”. I really wouldn’t be surprised if in another few years a “Australian feral’ is paraded in the cat shows.The common cat now feral akin to the common rabbit was an introduced species by early immigrants to Australia and both are considered pests, although for different reasons.

    • THE AUSTRALIAN FERAL

      That is a very clever idea. Americans like large cats. A feral cat that is nearly a wild cat which is then made domestic again and then “refined” to make it more pretty is right up the street of the American cat fancy.

  7. I want a giant hydrid cats to scare scavenger mercants from my door. Because fair natural selection in evolving they must be more healthier than any domestic overbreeded pets.
    My aunt tamed young feral cat but it never wanted to live indoors but was really friendly towards people. He got very huge head and paws. It was love at first sight.

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