Are Cats Indigenous To North America?

Cats are not native to North America, rather, they are an introduced predatory species. DNA analysis has now confirmed that domestic cat’s maternal ancestors date back to the Fertile Crescent (Egypt, Israel, Mesopotamia, today Iraq, Syria, Cyprus).

These Middle Eastern felines can still be found today wandering through the deserts of the area and it is believed that they may have originated in a population that lived between 70,000 to 100,000 years ago, producing the genetic lineage that eventually included all domestic cats.

Further research suggests that these wildcats may have been captured some 10,000 or 12,000 years ago as sort of an experiment when humans were settling down to farm. At the time, people were interested in attracting wildcats as they helped destroy the rodents that were infesting the farm fields and sneaking into the grain barns. In addition, cats seemed to adapt well to these cities and towns where the farm settlements were. Today there are some 600 million house cats in the world. Domestication turned out to be one heck of a natural experiment.

Once cats were turned into household companions they accompanied prehistoric human tribes in their migration worldwide, which explains the origin of all domestic cats from the same stock. Thus, domestic cats from Europe are actually the same as domestic cats from Israel, or China, etc.

The oldest remains of a domestic cat, being about 9,500 years old, were discovered in Cyprus. Interestingly enough, cats, unlike other domestic animals have changed very little compared to their wild ancestors, which is why it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between feral cats and actual wildcats, also causing interbreeding in many hybrids of the two.

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