Rescued feral kittens - Most feral kittens have little chance of surving
more than a few months and are vulnerable to starvation, predators, disease and
even flea-induced anemia. Here, kittens from two feral litters are fostered by a
A feral cat is a
cat which has been
separated from domestication, whether through abandonment, loss, or running
away, and become wild. The term also refers to descendants of such cats, but not
to Wild Cats,
whose ancestors were never domesticated. It's a common myth that feral cats
usually cannot be re-socialized, even though it is difficult and not all cats
will take to it. Feral kittens, however, can be much easier socialized to live
with humans if they are taken from a feral colony before they are about twelve
Feral cats may live alone, but are usually found in large groups called
feral colonies with communal nurseries, depending on resource availability.
Many abandoned pet
cats join these colonies out of desperation; these cats can usually be readopted
into a new home. The
average life span of a feral cat that survives beyond
usually less than two years while a
domestic housecat lives an average of sixteen years or more.
In the United States
TNR: Some adult feral cats can be socialized, depending on the degree of human
interaction throughout their lives; feral kittens have a good chance of
socialization and adoption up to about four months of age. Ferals like this one
have one ear "tipped" prior to return to the feral colony, which identifies this
feline as altered. This feral cat, however, was lucky enough to be brought
together with a patient owner and resocialized.
Cityscapes and North America are not native environments for the cat; the
domestic cat comes from temperate or hot, often dry, climates and was
distributed throughout the world by humans. Although cats are somewhat
adaptable, feral felines are unable to survive in extreme cold and heat, and
with a need for a diet of 90% protein, few cats find adequate nutrition on their
own. In addition, they have no defense against or understanding of such
predators as dogs, coyotes and even automobiles. The current population of twenty to forty million feral felines
in the United States is due, initially, to human interference by environmental
introduction and later, by simple human irresponsibility and neglect.
In the United States
Trap-Neuter-Return or TNR programs are facilitated by many volunteers and
organizations. In addition to sterilization, inoculation against rabies and the
feline leukemia virus as well as the application of long-lasting flea treatments
before release are common. Frequently, attending veterinarians nip the tip off
one ear to mark the feral
spayed or neutered and inoculated, as these cats will more than likely find
themselves trapped again. Volunteers often continue to feed and give care to
these cats throughout their lives. Many would like to do more, but most fully
feral cats are unadoptable unless trapped and socialized before four months of
The TNR program is considered a humane, efficient way to deal with the
problem of feral cats for several reasons. The wholesale removal of feral
euthanasia is rarely effective, since new individuals move into the areas
left by the removed animals almost immediately, and the blanket euthanasia of
stray and feral cats has proven ineffective in controlling stray and feral
overpopulation. TNR posits that, by providing basic care for a stable, neutered
colony of feral cats, most of the problems associated with their presence can be
eliminated or greatly reduced. As the existing cats are better fed and cared
for, their lives are extended, and neutering stops the influx of kittens to
replace adults dying from disease or starvation. This stable colony is less
likely to compete for food or predate on local wildlife if it is fed regularly,
and fighting with domestic pet cats, roaming, and other nuisance behaviours are
greatly reduced by neutering.
By providing this basic support, caretakers insure that the resident colony
will stabilize and prevent unknown new cats from moving into the neighborhood.
As individuals in the colony die, new ferals move in to take their place, and
can be trapped, neutered and vaccinated as they appear. Over time, these
stabilized feral colonies can become sources of enjoyment and pride to
neighborhoods rather than nuisances. Given the choice between a colony of
rapidly reproducing, starving, and diseased animals and a colony of neutered
animals given basic healthcare, the desirable choice is obvious to all.
Recognizing the ineffectiveness of blanket euthanasia as a means of
controlling stray and feral cat population, more and more animal shelters
throughout the United States are becoming "no kill shelters", and are gradually
implementing more humane and effective animal population control methods. Some
states such as California and many countries around the world have had
tremendous success with humane methods to control feral cat populations. A
proposal in the state of Wisconsin to legalize the hunting of feral cats in an
attempt to reduce their population was recently (April 2005) blocked by the
state's lawmakers. South Dakota and Minnesota still allow wild cats to be shot.
There is no doubt feral cats will hunt other small animals. Some people see
this as a problem in itself, due to the suffering and death inflicted on the
prey. Others instead support the killing of mice, rats and other rodents, whom
they perceive as pests. Many object to the killing of songbirds and other birds
on conservation grounds. Some estimate the bird loss at over two hundred million
a year. These figures may be questionable, however, with some of the damage due
to the resurgence of other small predators such as the gray fox (urocyon
cinereoargenteus), fisher or pekan (martes pennanti), coyote (canis latrans),
and puma (puma concolor). The loss of species due to overbuilding of native
habitat by humans far outstrips that lost to feral cat predation.
16 is National Feral Cat Day in the United States.
Feral cats have been present in
Australia since European settlement, and may have arrived with Dutch shipwrecks
in the 17th century. Intentional releases were made in the late 19th century in the hope that cats would control mice, rabbits and rats.
The feral cat has been an ecological disaster in Australia, inhabiting most
ecosystems except dense
rainforest, and being implicated in the extinction of several marsupial and
placental mammal species but there is no proof to support this view. (Cats are
not believed to have been a factor in the extinction of the only mainland bird
species to be lost since European settlement, the Paradise Parrot; their role in
the loss of rare species on Australasian islands, however, has been significant.) “Convincing evidence
that cats exert a significant effect on native wildlife throughout the mainland
is lacking” - Environment Australia
Folklore has it that some feral cats in Australia have grown so large as to
cause inexperienced observors to claim sightings of other species, and
subsequent news stories of mysterious animals being sighted. Typical locations
for such sightings are south-west Western Australia, and the Nullabor.
Control programs are difficult to devise due to the
nocturnal and solitary nature of feral cats, broad distribution in the landscape
and continuous additions to the population from abandoned domestic cats. Due to
the danger posed to humans handling the animal, captured feral cats are almost
always killed. Although trap neuter and return programs such as those in the
United States are not prevalent in Australia, they are now being introduced in
some urban and suburban areas such as Adelaide. More recently, such programs
have been introduced in Sydney by the
"World League for Protection of Animals".
Rome, Italy is perhaps the place with most feral cats, the total number being
estimated between 250,000 and 350,000, organized in about 2,000 colonies, some
of them living in famous ancient places such as the Colosseum.
Feral cats and island restoration
introduced to islands with ecologically naive fauna (that is, species that have
not evolved or have lost predator responses for dealing with cats) have had a
devastating impact on these islands' biodiversity. They have been implicated in
the extinction of several species and local extinctions, such as the huitas from
the Caribbean and the Guadalupe Storm-petrel from Pacific Mexico. Moors and
Atkinson wrote, in 1984, "No other alien predator has had such a universally
damaging effect." Given the damage they do, many conservationists working in the
field of island restoration (literally restoring damaged islands through removal
of introduced species and replanting and reintroducing native species) have
worked to remove feral cats. As of 2004, 48 islands have had their feral cat
populations removed, including New Zealand's network of offshore island bird
reserves (Nogales et al, 2004). Larger projects are also being planned,
including their removal from Ascension Island.
Feral cats, along with rabbits and some sea birds, are the entire animal
population of the remote
Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean.
Feral cats colonies often arise from stray or abandoned unneutered cats. The
cats breed rapidly and have multiple-kit litters although relatively few kittens
survive to breeding age. Often the owners do not have the capacity or desire to
care for a large number of cats.
The conditions lived in by feral cats vary immensely. Some have short,
dangerous, unhealthy, desperate lives, in deplorable conditions. Others are
welcomed as working cats around factories and farms and while their lives not
luxurious, some live well into their teenage years. <!-Cat Action Trust has
encountered ferals up to 19 years old, record age for feral is 26 - Cats
Protection League --> Because of the perceived dangers to humans, other species,
and the cats themselves, and out of compassion toward the animals, many people,
including celebrities such as Bob Barker,
campaign to encourage people to spay and neuter their pets and support the
humane control of feral cats.
A growing number of animal societies realise that feral cats are wild animals
and should not be judged by pet animal standards. Where the cats perform a
useful task or are not a threat to the local ecology, the approach is to trap,
neuter and return them to their own habitat, while removing any ill, injured or
Tabor, Roger, Arrow Books (1983). The Wild Life of the Domestic Cat.
Moors, P.J.; Atkinson, I.A.E. (1984). Predation on seabirds by
introduced animals, and factors affecting its severity.. In Status
and Conservation of the World's Seabirds. Cambridge: ICBP.
Nogales, Manuel et al (2004).
A review of feral cat eradication on islands. Conservation Biology.
18 (2), 310-319.
Alley Cat Allies Feral Cat Resource - provides information about how to
deal with feral cats humanely.