How many North American wild cats can you name?
Most people may name two or three, but North America is home to many wild cats. From the forests of eastern Canada to the scrublands of Mexico, wild cats were once prevalent throughout North America. Today, these cats are now restricted to small fractions of their original ranges. While most of North America's cats are protected by law in one or more countries, in almost all cases, their populations continue to struggle against a variety of threats. The National Wildlife Federation's Endangered Cats of North America report indicates that many of North America's cats are threatened or endangered.
According to NWF's report, habitat loss, due to a variety of human activities, is now the single greatest threat to the survival of North America's cats. The imbalances left behind when these top predators disappear from the landscape are overpopulation and declines among other species that share their habitats. The loss of cougars and other felines in the eastern U.S. has likely contributed to the exploding numbers of white-tailed deer in that region, leading to everything from vegetation depletion to traffic accidents. Elimination of dominant carnivores can also lead to disproportionate populations of small and mid-sized carnivores such as raccoons, opossum and skunks.
Although many acres of wild lands have been degraded or destroyed in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, important areas still do support cats. Conserving these lands is vital to helping North America's wild cats survive. In areas like Florida, Texas and California, where native habitat has been greatly reduced, conservation efforts must focus on preserving what little native land is left and then protecting additional wilderness areas.
The map below shows the distribution of cats in the lower 48 states. Click on your state to find out more about the cats that live there.
Ensuring the survival of North America's endangered cats will require bold and aggressive conservation efforts throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Protecting these wilderness icons for the long term will depend on broad and vocal public support advocating for wild cat recovery.