The world’s natural landscapes are in peril. As animal and plant species go extinct at rates faster than previously seen in history, 36 species of the wild cats are threatened and in decline due to humans. Wild cats are consummate predators, and in most landscapes all cats are apex predators, which means their presence is critical for maintaining balanced, healthy ecosystems, including prey populations, quality habitat patches for species sustenance and reproduction, and connectivity for genetic diversity. Wild cats face an uncertain future due to human impacts, yet there is still time to restore conditions to support stable felid populations in most regions of the world. We may each ask ourselves, ‘How would the eradication of wild felids affect humans, and most importantly, me?’ Well, in short, immeasurably. By successfully safeguarding wild felid populations we protect central ecosystem services that on the whole, have a powerful effect on humans, our health, sustenance, returns, and natural resources.
The domestic cat, felis catus, has a unique status in the Felidae family of 37, having originated from African Wildcats in the Middle East as early as 8000 BC. Domestic cats have become the most popular pet in the world. However, breeding of pet cats, and eventual abandonment or abuse by pet owners has driven an epidemic of uncontrolled feral cat populations worldwide. There are over 60 million feral cats in the US alone. Although our organization believes that domestic cats can serve as strong educational ambassadors for their wild cousins with the public, and that both need critical attention, we do not focus on domestic and feral cats and their impact on natural landscapes and humans worldwide.
Of the 36 wild cat species, all are threatened or endangered due to human impacts, and conflict between humans and wild cats is on the rise. Loss of habitat and prey are two common challenges facing wild cats, caused by human population growth, development and encroachment. Other important factors influencing healthy wild cat populations include disease, rodenticide poisoning, impassable highways and roadways, trophy hunting, and livestock protection (both legal and illegal).
Conservation of wild cats in the role of apex predator, and subsequently healthy ecosystems, in the current day hinges on genuine cooperation between scientists, educators, NGOs, government agencies, international communities and policy makers. By getting people to care about the critical role these apex predators play in ecosystems and the challenges they face, we can preserve habitats, stave off further extinctions, and promote healthy ways for humans and wild cats to co-exist.