Feral cats extremely under documented in INat

I’ve turned on “slow mode” because this topic is getting heated. As usually happens on topics about feral cats. Please assume that every person has good intentions.


I am uncertain of why the distinction of marking a housecat observation as feral or wild is of such critical
importance, or than doing so may help feed an agenda, as indicated by

And, a certain equivelance of feral and ‘outdoor’ cats was made:

As @pfau_tarleton indicated,

[quote=“pfau_tarleton, post:12, topic:21667, full:true”]
I doubt that iNaturalist will ever be a reliable enough source of feral cat observations to use in tracking their populations or impacts. iNaturalist was never intended to accurately document population size because of the huge observational biases. Building awareness must start with actual scientific studies of population sizes and impacts because you want that awareness to be based on trustworthy metrics–not the whims of thousands of individual observers.,

and as @Erin_MA commented:

it doesn’t seem that marking a housecat observation wild or captive is of critical importance. As pointed out by @upupa-epops:

If a person wanted to use iNat to help pursue a ‘case’, and given that the the impacts on wildlife from housecats in the landscape is a concern for all housecats loose in those landscapes, not just the presence of feral ones, and given the uncertainty of a housecat being an outdoors cat, or a barn cat, or a feral cat, wouldn’t total observations of housecats, and their locations, be of more value than what was guessed at as to their captive status, such that the important point would be to urge the posting of housecat photos, not just how they are labeled?


I’ll begin by saying that I started life on iNat as somebody who found the wild/cultivated things artificial and annoying. Eventually I figured out that there reasons for the existing structure and there are no alternatives that solve every conflict or answer every need.

iNaturalist is a platform for learning about biodiversity that has a secondary but important function as a generator of data about distribution of species in nature. It employs definitions of captive and cultivated that conform with standards of partners who are the main aggregators of the data iNaturalist (and other sources) produce. It cannot arbitrarily rejig the definitions without damaging the usability of the data in larger databases which are built around definitions with long histories.

The wild/captive and wild/cultivated dichotomies are binary approximations of phenomena that are not binary in nature. There are obviously degrees of wildness. Reflecting those degrees in data collected by observers with very divergent levels of expertise and engagement is simply impossible. Collecting data on the distribution of Felis catus in nature iNat can do a reasonable job on and that’s useful for a few reasons; information on feral cats can undoubtedly be contributed but there is no way that a platform like this is ever going to be able to produce uniformly clean data for captive versus wild domestic cats.

It is, on the other hand, a great platform for a respectful conversation about this subject. Asking observers (or IDers) why they marked an observation as captive with a brief explanation of why you’re asking could be a useful exercise in information sharing and learning. The key word here is respectful. These sorts of discussions can turn into obnoxious wastes of bandwidth very quickly when allowance is not made for different levels of knowledge and differing perspectives. As Blue notes, the default on iNat is to assume that participants mean no harm. That’s a good rule pretty much anywhere.


Nowhere in this post or in my comments did I urge people to mark cats feral. What I said was “do not mark captive without evidence”. Nowhere did I say “mark feral”.

I believe my words were taken out of context here. My intention is positive, please do not assume otherwise.

My intention is to increase visibility of feral cats and their impacts, and to find a way to keep them from being hidden from the average user without evidence that they are a pet.

My phrasing “help our case” was a rushed version of what I intended to say, which is that I want feral cats made visible to the average or new user who doesn’t know how to search for “casual”, or who won’t realize how harmful feral cats are if they are placed in a special category. I don’t want cat observations to get marked “captive” without evidence. I want “cat” observations to be more detailed and provide better context, not mislabeled. It’s about science, not my agenda.


But that doesn’t have to be offspring. Starburst Bush is a terrible invasive because it sends out an ever expanding thicket of root suckers. Not technically offspring in the iNaturalist sense, not technically naturalized, but still “spreading on its own” in an invasive way that adversely affects other plants.

And how about a plant that is occasionally fed?


Most cats, whether feral or owned, will hunt when outside and have an impact on diversity and survival of certain species. One British study found that some cats bring dozens of prey species back to their owners each night, showing they may kill more animals then feral cats. I am not sure why marking them captive makes a difference to studying this impact when most cats, including owned ones, hunt when outside.


Thank you for this post. There are many feral cats in Santa Clara City Central Park (CA) and an active feeding program. Yesterday I told a feeder that I thought they should not be feeding cats in the park because of the damage they do to wildlife and the person became very abusive and threatening. I have in the past also called the city, county and humane society on this matter. I will start posting pictures of the feral cats I see and mark them as wild for inventory purposes. It would be nice to have a “feral” category specifically for domesticated cats.


There’re too many feral species now as wild, so it would be hard to implement, but you can use tags or observation fields.

1 Like

This is a very difficult issue and there is no right answer. Feral cats fall under the same category as escaped pets. How long does an animal have to be “out of captivity” to be considered wild?
I think users just have to use their best judgement.
I am gathering data on African Spurred Tortoises through a project here on iNat and trying to see if we can document whether a feral breeding population exists anywhere in the US. The problem is people keep marking any spurred tortoise they see as “captive” even if it was found wandering miles from any residence or had been seen wandering an area for months. No good answer.


Feral Cats are a bit different than say domestic waterfowl, because there are many wild-born Feral Cats across the world. It’s essentially a worldwide introduced species that can be hard to detect because there are so many pet cats wandering out.

My personal preference would be for all outdoor cats to be marked as wild. There is a very fine line between outdoor pet cats and feral cats. In fact many cats are really both at once.


When it comes to places where closely-related wildcats are native and present in the area, it would be best to refrain from marking cat-like animals as ‘captive’, especially when a good number of feral cats are tabbies and hard to distinguish from the wildcat (for example, both domestic tabbies with a mackerel pattern and African wildcats share very similar looks).

Obviously for places where there are no native wildcats, this would be much less of an issue, and it is a non-issue when the cat has clearly domestic markings (extensive white fur, black, ginger, pied, tortoiseshell, etc).

And yes, I agree that feral domestics should be marked as wild. One would obviously classify urban carnivores such as coyotes and foxes as non-captive; free-roaming mustangs/brumbies, feral pigs (razorbacks etc), and Australian feral goats as non-captive. As such it should apply to feral cats as well.


What about feral dogs? Similar issues? Don’t they similarly threaten and harass wildlife, as well as domestic stock?

Dogs’ becoming major threat’ to wildlife




I would appreciate some voting to make sure it won’t happen again, hell, how I hate people who mark things non-wild, ugh. I have to recheck observations of cats and dogs each week, there’s always some people doing dirty stuff like that, they never even write a comment.
Feral dogs do much more damage than domestic ones, packs behave as real wild groups, while even free roaming domestic dog has much less potential on killing bigger things.


That may be because they have had to deal with vandalism and theft of their cat feeding stations and shelters. I see a lot of posts about this on Nextdoor. Those who do not want cats to be fed will stoop to this kind of criminal behavior frequently enough that it becomes a pattern feeders learn to expect…

1 Like