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Why don’t domestic cats survive in the wild?

February 2, 2013

A new, much reported study shows that cats kill a ferocious amount of rodents and birds. George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy, comments: “This study, which employed scientifically rigorous standards for data inclusion, demonstrates that the issue of cat predation on birds and mammals is an even bigger environmental and ecological threat than we thought.”

There is something here that puzzles me. I’ve never seen a domestic cat in the field, whether the brush of south Texas, or the rain forests of Costa Rica. Feral cats do well where humans live. But not beyond. What prevents the domestic cat from thriving in the wild?

There are wild cats in the Old World closely related to the domesticated cat. And the domesticated cat still is an excellent hunter. So why haven’t they established populations in the wild parts of the New World? Have they lost some trait necessary for survival away from people? Perhaps their domestication has made them too curious and too friendly, leaving them prey to coyotes and larger predators? The margay shown above is not a domesticated cat.

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