How long do wild cats live?

When working out how long wild cats live, it is better to look at their lifespan on a species-by-species basis as there is some variation between the species. However, Samantha Bonar in her book Small Wildcats states that wildcats live for around 10 years. I think that’s about correct on average for cats living in the wild. Although the internet tells me that wild cats live between 13 and 14 years. It’s probably wise to drill down a bit and look at some specific species and see what the experts say as to their lifespan. This is what I have done.

Tiger. Photo: Pixabay.
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And, you have to specify where the cat is living. There is no doubt that captive wild cats living in zoos or other captive settings will live longer than the same cat living in the wild. I guess that is obvious. In fact, in general, captive cats live twice as long as wild cats living in the wild.

My information on lifespan for the wild cat species comes from the distinguish book Wild Cats Of The World by Mel Sunquist and Fiona Sunquist and they rely on many studies. Their book is dated 2002 and their studies can be quite old. I don’t think this affects the information.

For example, for the cheetah they state that the “mean life expectancy for females reaching three years of age was an additional 3.9 years [i.e. 3+3.9=6.9]. This estimate has been revised to 6.2 years in the 25 year dataset, with the oldest female surviving to 13.5 years”.

They also state that, “in the Serengeti the maximum lifespan of males was 9.3 years, but the average was 5.3 years. As to cheetahs living in zoos, they refer to wild-caught cheetahs living in zoos and they state that they can live for between 12 to 16 years of age and one survived to the age of 17. Tellingly, they also state that the lifespan of the cheetah in the wild is about half that of the captive animal.

In captivity, caracals, have lived to be 16 years old. As for the Asiatic golden cat, captive animals have lived to be about 17 years old.

Records state that captive jungle cats have been known to live nine years and 10 months. The sand cat does very badly in captivity. I’m told that if some have survived in captivity for several years but wild-caught animals often die within the year of being brought into captivity. Many die of feline enteritis despite being vaccinated against it. That information is dated 1977.

As for the black-footed cat, wild-caught cats living in captivity had a lifespan of nearly 10 years. Captive European wildcats have lived to be 16 years old. Captive African-Asian wildcats have lived to be 15 years old. Captive jaguarudi have lived to more than 10 years of age. It is recorded that one female oncilla lived to be 17 years old. The lifespan of the margay in the wild is probably unknown but a male margay in Santa Fe zoo in Gainesville, Florida lived to be 24 years old.

Servals have been known to live to 20 years in captivity while longevity in the wild is probably around 10 years.

The Canada lynx has been recorded as living to 14 years and 11 months of age. In captivity Eurasian lynx have lived for 21 years and 10 months. There is not much information about the longevity of the Iberian lynx but based upon a skull in a collection the age of the cat was estimated to have been 14 years old when it died.

There are records of captive bobcats living to 25 and 32 years of age. In the wild, adults appear to be fairly long-lived and some have been killed i.e. harvested for their pelts at 10 to 17 years of age. There is no information about the longevity of Andean Mountain cats in captivity.

There are records of manuls (Pallas’s cat) living to 11.2 years old (a single captive animal). The experts say that the lifespan of the manul is probably similar to that of the domestic cat at about 8 to 10 years in the wild.

The leopard cat has been recorded as living to 13 years old in captivity. The oldest rusty-spotted cat in captivity as at 2002 was 12 years old. Captive fishing cats have lived for 10 years. The longest living African golden cat in captivity is just over 12 years. The clouded leopard is recorded as having lived to the age of 15 years in one zoo and in another zoo in Philadelphia the cat lived to almost 17 years old.

As to the lion, female lions live longer than males. Female lions living in the Serengeti can live as long as 18 years and remain fertile until they are 15. Zoo lions live for about 13 years. The record is held by a lioness in the Cologne zoo who lived to almost 30 years old. Sometimes while lions reach an old age. A 16 year old male was recorded from Kruger National Park. A lioness in Nairobi National Park died at about 22 years of age. And in Etosha a female lion lived to more than 16 years old before disappearing.

As to the jaguar, in captivity they have lived to the good age of 20 to 25 years and one female lived to 32 years old. In Belize, in the wild it is thought that only a few Jaguars live to more than 11 years old.

Two leopards tracked in the Serengeti were estimated to have lived for at least 10 and 12 years. A female produced nine litters in 12 years of observation in the Londolozi Game Reserve.

Tigers have lived for up to 26 years and 20 years is not uncommon. One tigress at Rotterdam Zoo gave birth to a cub at 17 years of age. In the wild their lifespan is much shorter and a female would do well to live to 14 or 15.

In captivity, one marbled cat lived to the age of 12 years and three months.

In captivity snow leopards have lived to be 21 years old. The average lifespan of females in captivity is 9.6 years. One female in the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo of Colorado was at least 18 years of age when she gave birth to a litter.

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