The reason why cats don’t migrate

You might ask yourself whether small cats migrate or whether any cat species migrate and the answer is no they don’t. I have put together a little list as to why they don’t migrate.

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Ecological adaptation: wild cat species have adapted to the specific habitat in which they live and the ecosystems living within and around those habitats. And cats are often highly specialised predators. They’ve evolved to exploit a niche within the landscape and their particular environment. These habitats provide them with sufficient supply of prey, shelter and water resources. They don’t need to travel long distances i.e. migrate, to find these resources.

Territoriality: cats like to have their territory a.k.a. home ranges. They establish and defend them. They mark their territories so others know that it belongs to them. They have exclusive access to the resources in that area. Migration would mean they would have to leave their home range. This would lead to conflicts and difficulties in surviving. Returning to their home range would be very difficult because it would mean usurping the then current resident.

Prey availability: herbivores i.e. those animals that feed on plants, migrate to follow seasonal changes to access new grazing areas. Cats are obligate carnivores as you know and they feed on other animals. Small wild cats feed on small mammals, marsupials, reptiles, insects and birds. These animals don’t migrate (except for 20% of the bird species). For the large wild cats, the ungulates (hooved mammals) which do migrate, enter the territory of the cats. The cats remain in their territories where prey is available consistently. This precludes the need to migrate in search of food.

Reproductive considerations: many wild cat species have particular reproductive behaviours which are tied to their territories. Migrating away could disrupt mating and decrease the chance of procreation. By staying in the same area they maintain the social structure. They defend their territories. The survival of their offspring is optimised.

Individual males of large wild cat species such as mountain lions can be forced to travel over hundreds of miles to find a home range. This will be a perilous time as they are newly independent. This is not migration.

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Prey availability may dictate the need to move to a different area but these are normally over relatively short distances and they’re not regular movements in a pattern which characterises migration.

Perhaps the key reason why small wild cat species don’t migrate is because their prey does not migrate and they like to have their own home range which they can defend and in which females raise their offspring.

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