Did the native North American people have pet cats?
No, they didn’t. There weren’t any pet cats in North America until not very long ago. But there were wild cats in the forests and mountains, and have been for a very long time.
Millions of years ago, there were several kinds of sabre-tooth cats in North America. These fierce cats died out thousands of years ago. Today, there are five types of wild cats that live in what is now Mexico, United States and Canada. They are: lynx, bobcat, ocelot, cougar (also known as the puma or mountain lion) and jaguar. The jaguar is the largest. It is also the only cat in North America that knows how to roar.
All these wild cats live in remote places. They avoid people, so we rarely see them. The North American native peoples knew about these wild cats, but did not have pet cats. There were no pet cats anywhere in North America until about 260 years ago. That’s when the first cats arrived from Europe and Britain. They came on ships with British and European people who wanted to trade or settle in what they called the New World. On these ships, the cats weren’t pets. They had the job of keeping mice and rats from eating the grain and other food stored onboard.
Both the people and their horses and farm animals relied on the cats to protect their food supply. Without the ship cats helping to protect their food, they might not have made it safely. They might have run out of food before they reached land. Some of these people made their new home in North America. Others settled in Central America, South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. In all these places, cats arrived with the settlers. Cats were happy living with people be- cause people gave them warm, safe places to live. Cats became very comfortable living with people.
Today, there are millions of pet cats and feral cats in North America. Feral means cats that are wild. Feral cats usually live near people, but not with them. Almost all of today’s pet and feral cats in North America, South America, Cen- tral America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are the great-great-great- great-grand-cats of those first cats who came on ships of explorers and settlers from Britain and Europe in the 1600s and 1700s.