From Wild Cats to Adventure Felines

October 29 is National Cat Day, a day to celebrate these purrfect creatures. Sure, Interior-managed lands have bobcats, ocelots, lynx and cougars, but now more than ever, we are seeing adventure cats making appearances too! 

As more people choose to travel with their feline friends, we’d like to share some facts about what make cats exceptionally good hunters, companions and travel buddies.

Here are some great facts and tips for recreating responsibly with felines.

Our tame couch cats descended from greatness. 

African wildcat crouches in a tree.

Domesticated cats descended from a specific species of African wildcat, Felis lybica, approximately 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Most likely domesticated by farmers to help with pest control, these purring poofs have been by our sides ever since.

Because domesticated cats inherited a legacy of hunting skills from their African wildcat relatives, these pets are efficient and sneaky stalkers. It doesn’t matter their fitness level or lack of abilities; domesticated cats can activate their wild roots and kill prey with ease.

It’s this wild lineage that make domesticated cats so amazing and skillful, but also gives us a greater need for keeping our kitties safe as well as the wildlife around them. If you are traveling with your pet, here are some things you can do to not only keep your furry companion safe in the outdoors, but other wildlife as well.

Don’t let your kitty roam free. Consider a leash, harness or a “catio” instead!  

Long-haired domestic cat on a leash poses on a tree.

Instead of letting your cat roam free, use a leash, harness or cat patio (or “catio”) to allow your cat to safely enjoy the outdoors. Most national park sites and public lands areas allow you to bring your pets with you, but make sure to find out the rules prior to your arrival.

The National Park Service welcomes pets to most sites. However, one of the requirements is to keep your cat on a leash. Free-roaming cats can get hit by cars, injured or killed by predators or other cats, or spread diseases, so be sure to keep your cats safe and secure.

Wild cats have killer instincts, but don’t let your feline hunt. 

Small baby bird rests head on a shell at a sandy beach.

The domestic cat is a beloved pet, but it's also a major threat to birds and other types of wildlife. Every year in the United States, free-roaming and feral cats kill well over one billion birds. This level of predation is unsustainable for many already-declining species, such as the Least Tern and Wood Thrush.

It wasn’t too long ago that these cuddly house cats were living wild and free, and hunting for their meals. Most domesticated cats today that aren’t living in feral colonies are fed by their humans. House cats will often not eat the wildlife that they catch, and they do not need to eat wildlife to survive.

Wild cats like bobcat, ocelot, lynx, and puma need food sources of wild birds, rodents and other mammals to stay alive. By keeping domestic cats secured, there’s more food for the big cats.

Make sure your cat recreates responsibly. 

Domestic cat wearing a small hat and sweater with NPS logo.

Does your cat enjoy scenic vistas? Make sure you consider your cat’s safety by using a harness, stroller or backpack. Bring all the supplies they will need for their outdoor adventure.

Before you head out, determine if cats are allowed at your destination. Maybe the public lands you are headed to has a M.E.O.W. Ranger program?

And make sure you check the weather before you and your feline friend head outdoors. If your cat is hairless or has a short, fine coat, they may need sunscreen or other protection.

Scoop the poop and stash the trash. 

Domestic cat on a leash sits in front of a mountain lake.

Much like BARK Ranger visitors, our MEOW rangers must also adhere to cleaning up after themselves. We don’t like to pick sides, but adventure cats do seem to be a little cleaner when it comes to waste.

Another good reason to scoop that poop and throw it away properly is that cat feces can spread disease amongst wild animals.

Respect and show your love for wild cats. 

Wild cat with unspotted and tan-brown in color with a whitish throat.

Safely show your love for wild cats through acts of service. Keep their habitats safe and clean, respect their physical space and keep a safe distance from any wild cats you encounter when out in nature.

We show our love for felines with our work to help conserve and preserve their habitats. In July of 2021, we expanded the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge by 4,800 acres, bringing the refuge’s total acreage to more than 102,000 acres. This additional habitat will help safeguard and connect critical migration corridors for the endangered ocelots. Ocelots once roamed from South Texas up into Arkansas and Louisiana and are claimed to be the most beautiful Texas cat.

You can help ocelots by visiting the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. You can also become a fan of Viva the Ocelot! on Facebook to keep up to date on current ocelot information including the annual Ocelot Conservation Festival.

A medium-sized spotted wild cat looks toward the camera.

One of the main threats to wild cats is habitat destruction. Many wild cats, such as the Florida panther, require large, contiguous areas of suitable habitat to meet their social, reproductive, and energetic needs. In addition to habitat loss, many wild cats are also being hunted to extinction.

A Florida panther is a uniformly tan and not spotted wild cat.

In 1967, the Department of the Interior listed the Florida panther as an endangered subspecies. Since then, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked closely with the state of Florida, as well as other federal agencies and private partners to make significant progress towards achieving recovery. You can help wild cats by raising awareness, educating others about wild cat behavior and recovery needs, and following these tips.

Domestic cat on a leash walks along a roadway.

Wild and domestic cats are beautiful and captivating animals. By protecting cats, we protect the homes and ecosystems that support many other animals, plants and people.

With almost 500 million acres of Interior managed public lands in the U.S., we have plenty of spaces for you and your adventure cat to recreate responsibly!