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Program Big Cats Initiative

  • Wildcats (Felis sylvestris) are small cats native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. They are adapted to a variety of habitats, including savannah, open forest, scrubland, swamp, and farmland. Throughout history, wildcat adaptability and proximity to humans has increased. The wildcat's self-domestication is thought to have coincided with the rise of farming communities. This serves as an example of human-cat coevolution. As grain harvests increased, so did rodent populations. Rodents then became an even more important part of the wildcat's diet. These factors may have driven wildcats to evolve into a separate domesticated species (Felis catus) or subspecies (Felis sylvestris lybica) between 9,000-10,000 years ago. Today, there are over 600 million domestic cats living as pets throughout households on six different continents.

    1. What clues do researchers look for to learn about the changing ranges of wildcats?

      Researchers look for clues about home ranges, resting sites, and habitat selection.

    2. Why do researchers think wildcats risk being so close to humans?

      Researchers think wildcats risk being close to humans due to availability of prey and habitat encroachment.

    3. How could human-cat coevolution have lead to the development of the domesticated cat (Felis catus)?

      As humankind began settling into farming communities, wildcats became habituated to humans and feeding on rodents.

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