Are there any cats native to Australia? No, there are no cat species native to Australia. This is another reason why the authorities – state and federal governments – on the continent, in general, hate the feral cat which they believe decimates their native species, particularly their small mammals. The reason why feral cats are on the Australian continent is because people brought them there.
Among the first settlers to Australia in the late 18th century some brought domestic cats, and there were ships’ cats too. Some became feral cats and they have been breeding successfully ever since to the point where there are now millions on the island. When the British settlers landed there were 750,000 Indigenous Australians who’d been living there for tens of thousands of years. They’ve had a long relationship with the dingo. But no cats! The British settlers ruined the life of the Indigenous people. And they might have been less careless with cat ownership too. They had no idea what they were creating, a gargatuan feral cat problem which is almost impossible to resolve.
Australia has many suitable prey animals for feral cats and the climate is amenable to survival so they did well. Some consider the feral cats of Australia to be almost a new species of small wild cat as they have grown in size and are such capable hunters.
Why are there no native cats in Australia? It’s because of timing of the ancient geological history coupled with the ancient evolution of cats. The wild cat species that are now in the area of the world called Asia were separated from the continent of Australia by the oceans. There was a water barrier so these species of wild cat could not migrate to Australia. And the barrier existed before a native species of cat had evolved in what is now called Australia.
An alternative question is how did cats come to Australia? Well, as explained, people brought them in much the same way that European settlers brought domestic cats with them to North America. Domestic cats are non-native to North America. But America has native wild cat species unlike Australia. It’s just the way the world evolved.
Do any big cats live in Australia? The answer to that is definitively, no, because there are no native species of wild cat of any kind in the country never mind big cats.
Australia was part of Antarctica before 96 million years ago at which time the tectonic plate on which Australia rests started to drift north towards what is known as Asia nowadays. It is still drifting north very slowly. Technically Australia cannot be an island under the current descriptions of ‘island’ and ‘continent’. Australia is a continent, the smallest on the planet at 7,700,000 km². It is surrounded by water and is therefore, on the face of it, an island as well but an island has to be smaller than a continent. As it is already described as a continent it cannot be an island at the same time. This is my understanding of this technical perhaps pedantic explanation.
The bottom line is that the cat did not evolve on Australia before it was called Australia. That’s probably down to chance and Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest.
Sometimes feral cats become pets….
SOME MORE ON AUSTRALIA’S FERAL CATS: