When Will Cats Go Extinct?

February 15, 2024

Despite their cute, meme-worthy mugs and prolific reproduction rates, felines are deadly killing machines. They are the "world's most problematic invasive species," according to a new study, and their proliferation is devastating wildlife populations.

Cats have been domesticated for more than 9,000 years and have spread around the globe, terrorizing native animals on every continent except Antarctica. In fact, they are the most widely distributed mammal on Earth.

Outdoor cats—particularly those that hunt rodents, birds and other small mammals—kill a staggering amount of wildlife. A 1997 study in Great Britain, for example, found that each domestic cat killed 11 wild animals (such as mice, frogs and birds) over six months. In the same year, a conservationist on the island of Kauai found that when outdoor cats were eradicated from a small forest, the number of native bird species quadrupled.

Big cats—also known as apex predators—are essential to food webs and ecosystems. But they are under threat from hunting and habitat destruction, too. And the threat is growing: Climate change could alter breeding and migration patterns, making life harder for felines in mountains and other high-altitude habitats.

The answer to when will cats go extinct depends on how we respond to the threats they face, says Boone Smith. The good news is that if we manage to curb the rate of cat predation, the global population can rebound. But if we don't, cats could disappear from the planet entirely. And that's something we'll all regret.


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