Why are wild cats endangered?
People ask the question: “why are wild cats endangered”. So please don’t complain that this is a boring subject. The answer to the question will be generalised and it will be very brief because in respect of all wild cat species the answer is the same: there is growing human activity and there is too much human activity which invariably leads to loss of wild cat habitat, loss of wild cat prey, poaching of the wild cats for their body parts, legal killing of wild cats for their body parts, poisoning of the large wild cats because they prey on livestock because the cat’s territory has been encroached upon by farmers (retaliatory killings) and we must not forget sport hunting. Despite wild cats becoming increasingly endangered sport hunters like to kill the big cats for pleasure.
That is the general answer. I emphasise “general” because specific conservation issues relate to specific species. You could qualify the answer like this. The organisation which decides whether or not a wild cat species is endangered is the IUCN Red List. If you visit their website you’ll notice than many of the 36-40 wild cat species are not listed as “endangered”. I think they are wrong but who am I to question the experts?
If they are correct then the question in the title is wrong. It should read: “Why are some wild cat species designated as endangered?” The answer, in general terms, is the one put forward in the first paragraph above.
As the human population grows relentlessly, and it is growing fastest in Africa where there are some precious wild cat species such as the lion, human activity also expands and inevitably there will be even greater pressure on the survivability of the wild cats.
In short, the long term prognosis is poor for the wild cats as it is for almost all wild species of animal. By the long term I mean 50-100 years hence. I believe you will see some wild cat species extinct in the wild in 100 years. It might well be the most iconic of all the wild cats; the tiger.
One other aspect which isn’t applicable to large cats, but is applicable to small ones is hybridization with domestic cats, especially ferals. This happens with Scottish wildcat, and it’s actually not even clear how many pure Scottish wildcats are left given that some of the supposedly pure wildcats show signs of hybridization. There is a video from a Scottish wildlife preserve showing supposedly pure wildcat, but the cat has a little white under its chin which is a sign of some hybridization. It happens with European wildcats as well as all sub-species of Felis Sylvestris as well.
Some of the other small wild felines would interbreed with domestic cats in nature e.g. there are wild occurring hybrids of Rusty-spotted cat and domestic cat in India.
In the case of the Scottish Wildcat hybridization may be part of the natural evolution or survival of the species. It seems the gene pool is very limited with this cat.
Probably, also here http://www.scottishwildcats.co.uk/wildcat.html they say that wildcats found near human habitats are almost always hybrids.
But it also dilutes the species if a Scottish queen mates with a domestic tom. Then, the resulting kittens are reared in the wild, and the queen may not be available to Scottish wildcat males the same season and the queens are only in heat one time a year in the beginning of the year unless she a litter. After a while though, domestic blood may start predominating.
On the other hand, if a Scottish wildcat tom mates with a feral female, the resulting kittens are reared as a domestic feral without wildcat skills or habits taught to them, so they’ll essentially be ferals.
I wonder about kittens behavior issues if someone failed to spay an indoor-outdoor female and she has an unusual mating partner. Kittens might display some unexpected behavior traits.
Which bring ups the question but for the availability of feral and I’m sure some fairly domestic cats would the Highland be extinct ?
And would a program of integrating some American Bobcat genes be beneficial ?
Interesting points. I think domestic cats though have survival advantage. There are many more of them and even with the TNR, there probably more of them available than the wildcats. Given that domestic cats mate more often – 2-3 times a year as opposed to only one in wildcats, and that kitten mortality is higher among the wildcats (about 50% according to the documentary I heard), domestic blood would tend to predominate quickly.
Integrating American bobcat genes would be difficult given the size difference, gestation period difference, and just genetic differences. Note that all of the hybrid breeds (Bengal, Savannah) were created by simple putting cats together and letting the nature take its course, not by anything artificial. It’s not clear if a Bobcat would even mate with a domestic cat or even with a wildcat.
Domestics and wildcats are much closer genetically. It’s not even clear if domestic cats are a separate species Felis Catus or just another sub-species of Felis Silvestris, Felis Silvestris Catus. Domestic cats originated from an African (sometimes called Near Eastern) wildcat, Felis Silvestris Libica (not to be confused with South African wildcat, Felis Silvestris Cafra).
If anything, I’d imagine if they wanted to introduce more wildcat genes, they could import some European wildcats from the places in Europe where there are still enough of them. I think conservationists want to keep the genetic distinctiveness of Scottish wildcats even though some people thing they are just the same as European wildcats: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_wildcat
Most of the bobcats I’ve seen were fairly small that’s why I brought up a cat that seemed similar.
Until this I had never heard of the Scottish Highland wildcat.
I find small wildcats fascinated. I think, but I cannot really be sure, that I had an encounter with an European wildcat as a child. It’s difficult to say for sure if it was a wildcat or a feral domestic, though we’d never heard of even a concept of a “feral” back then as all the stray cats in the city of St Petersburg (then Leningrad) and villages were friendly. It was in a Russian village, but the cat and her kittens were hiding in the basement, all identical tabbies as far as I remember. Anyway it’s a long story, I was 8, people told me the cat was wild, I probably didn’t even understand the concept and figured I’d pet or catch the kitten, tried to attract them by leaving food out near where they were hiding. Eventually a kitten got close enough for me to grab it. The kitten scratched my hands – the claws were pretty sharp and it was surprisingly strong, while the mother cat run after me, jumped, sank her claws (I think, I don’t have eyes in the back) and held on. So I dropped the kitten and run away, and was avoided the cat and her kittens for the rest of the summer, was afraid to get near her. She taught me a lesson, I guess. It took an awfully long time for the scratches on my thigh to heal.
I still don’t know if it was a wildcat or a feral. On the one hand, I’d never known of a concept of a feral back then, all strays were pretty friendly. Also, I think the kittens weren’t that young given the kitten’s strength and the sharpness of the claws. There is also the sameness of the pattern – as much of it as I saw – in all kittens. But I also don’t know if wildcats lived in that area as nobody had ever mentioned it. At any rate, I’ve been pretty fascinated with small wild cats.
Yes, agreed. The Scottish wild cat conservation problem is unusual. It is possible that all the Scottish wildcats are now hyrids. A similar problem probably exists with respect to the other wild cat species such as the African wildcat and the Chinese Desert Cat.
Yes, I think anywhere a small wild cat lives close to domestics, there is an issue if the size and cues are similar. It’s just that with some of them the offspring is fertile as with wildcat, with others only females are fertile, and yet in others, none are fertile or kittens are stillborn.
A sad commentary on the human species.