Will the Big Cats Survive the Free-Roaming Domestic Cats in the Sundarbans & Elsewhere?

Nat Geo Archives

I’m a wildlife ecologist and conservationist and I believe in promoting a “no-kill” nation with regard to feral and stray cats. However, let me share concerns with you put forth by many in the conservation community concerning feral cats.

I just returned from South Asia where I was working on rescue projects aimed at helping Indian leopards, jungle cats, other wild felids and other carnivore species, some of which are endemic to the region.

Specifically, the Indian subcontinent is home to the rare Bengal tiger subspecies, an iconic and revered wild cat subspecies. The Bengal tiger is considered Endangered, but not yet Critically Endangered like some other tiger subspecies, all of which are vanishing more or less from our planet.

And in the mangroves forests of Sundarbans, which covers a transboundary region of India and Bangladesh, there exists one of the most important nature reserves in the world for the Royal Bengal tiger.  It is home to approximately 270 Bengal tigers as well as leopards and jungle cats.

There are some villages nearby where people similar to you and me choose to love and cherish domestic cats as either pets or agents of pest control.

Not far from the village and right near the protected mangrove forests there are established feral cat colonies, comprised of cats that most likely descended from cats kept by local villagers. The feral cats mind their own business and and many people believe they deserve to be left alone, but some of them very likely carry feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia.

These two diseases are considered by some established scientific and medical communities to be fairly common in feral cats and very difficult to treat.

What do we do to prevent the spread of these lethal viral diseases if they are a legitimate threat to not only other feral, and other free roaming cats, and pets, but to the tigers and the other four species of big cats that live on the subcontinent (Asiatic lions, leopards, clouded leopards and snow leopards).

All of these pantherine cats are in jeopardy of vanishing in our lifetimes due to a number of other human caused or anthropogenic threats. I haven’t even mentioned the several smaller wild cat species in India, which are susceptible to these viruses like fishing cats and jungle cats.

catI don’t have the answer, and I don’t want to demonize feral cats more so than they have already been demonized. But I do know that although I am now much more a fan of domestic cats, I am and always have been a fan of the wild cats.  I don’t want to see anyone kill feral cats nor do I want to see tigers and Asiatic lions of which there are only a few hundred left in India, succumb to disease and possibly extinction.

For more information on big cats and National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative, visit this link.


  1. Robert Wall
    October 2, 2013, 8:04 pm

    As an Australian I am very conscious of the ecological damage that the ever growing population of feral cats do in this country as do foxes,pigs and the infernal cane toad. I have 3 cats as pets and they are an integrated part of our family , however all citizens here should have their cats desexed . And as much as it pains me to say so our wild dog hunters should shoot the feral cats as well.

  2. sonia
    October 2, 2013, 12:33 pm

    The etiopathogenesis of both FIV (feline immunodeficiency) and FeLV (feline leukemia) require that cats share physical contacts and resources. They are not “airy” viruses but viruses vehiculated by saliva exchanges and/or sexual mating and are weakly resistant in not organic environment. To be honest, I see the chance that a wild cat of any type will share a litter box or will fight a domestic cat quite unlikely.