Exotic Dogs and Cats

The current debate thread on exotic species prompts these questions;

  1. Were there dogs in North and South America prior to the arrival of Columbus. If so, what breeds? I know wolves existed but did the first peoples carry on with breeding and domestication of canines?

  2. Housecats are not indigenous to the Americas. Why have cats not gone feral in wilderness areas in the Americas as they have done so successfully in Australia? Surely we have no shortage of field mice.

I can help with #1. Not a chance on #2, though.

Yes, dogs have been in the Americas for several thousand years. According to the Britannica, modern dogs were domesticated in the Indian subcontinent some 12,000 to 14,000 years ago–before the closing of the North American land bridge. They’ve been here about as long as people have.

As near as I can tell, the only remaining precolumbian indiginous breed is the Alaskan Malamute. But I’ll keep digging.

There are feral cats all over the US. BUT, they aren’t nearly as big a problem here, because America has half a dozen native wild cats. The prey animals have evolved to be wary of cats.

But in Australia cats are a completely new thing, ecologically. So the other animals have poor defenses and don’t have the instincts that could help them escape cats.

Yes, there were several breeds of pre-columbian digs in both North and SOuth America. The accepted wisdom amongst palaeo-anthropologists is that by 10,000 years ago every human settlement on Earth had domesticated dogs, with only a handful of possible exceptions. What breeds I’m not quite sure, but almost certainly the huskies, samoyeds etc. would have pre-columbian roots. The California Dingo is almost certainly also a throwback from a domestic dog even though the Dingo itself is now classified as a wolf.
The reason why domestic cats haven’t gone feral in a big way in North AMerica as they have in Australia has a lot to do with Australia’s ecology and wild life.
It is now gaining increasing acceptance that cats were in Australia prior to European contact, probably brought in by Maccasans during their annual trading voyages to the Northern Territory.
At the time of the arrival of the first humans in Australia there were only about 5 large to medium sized mammalian carnivore species or genera. This compares to about 25 in the contiguous USA today, an area of approximately the same land area. There were many more species when humans arrived. The same array of large carnivorous mammals is true of every other similar sized landmass outside of Australasia (ignoring Antarctica).
When Europeans finally arrived in Australia, and probably by the time the cat was introduced, the native large-carnivore assemblage had dwindled to only two species on the mainland : the introduced dingo and the spotted quoll. The reasons for this poor representation of carnivorous mammals is largely due to an erratic climate, allowing mammlas to be largely supplanted by reptiles, of which Australia has an abundance. When the cat arrived the Australian ecosystems had been severely disturbed by Aboriginal and management practices and the introduction of the Dingo and several diseases, leaving gaps in the food chain that no native animals had been able to fill. This meant that an opportunistic carnivore like a cat could move into the vacant niches. Even so there are few records of feral cats in Australia prior to the 1850’s, despite cats being indisputably introduced to the continent in the 18th century. The reason for this delayed spread is probably that cats aren’t very good predators on Australian species compared to our native animals, in fact they suck. Contrary to popular belief Australian animals have extraordinary defences against predators, and non-Australian carnivore species basically aren’t in the running. Cats are just too clumsy and impatient to effectively hunt Australian animals used to coping with huge numbers of expert stalking reptiles like goannas, snakes and terrestrial crocodiles in addition to quolls.
What changed in the mid nineteenth century was the sudden explosion in numbers of an animal that cats are very good at hunting: rabbits. This allowed cats to support a large and acclimatising population that could sustain itself during years when rabbit numbers were low.
In the USA of course domestic cats face very stiff competetion from six locally adapted cat species, in addition to a suite of other predators including canids, bears, raccoons civets etc. The ecosystem in the USA has also not been as disturbed as in Australia and the native species are pre-adpated to all the ecological niches. Added to that there are no introduced plague mammal species.

Fanciers of the Xoloitzcuintli, more commonly known as the Mexican Hairless, claim that the breed is unchanged from pre-columbian times:



My bad Colibri.
An inability to spell US state names and an accident with a MSWord spell checker and not a Freudian slip I assure you.
Should have read Carolina Dingo.
I herweith apologise for any offense given to Californian or Carolignian (the correct term?) dopers, and go an interesting shade of red.

Carolinian. Often, though not always, prefaced by North or South.

Hey wait a minute Lemur866, I didn’t know there were half a dozen native wild cats in America. Do you mean North America only, or both? What are the species? I can only think of a handful in North America … the puma and the bobcat, but there are obviously more. (And I don’t think the jaguar lives outside of South America …?)

Wild cats in North America: Bobcat, Cougar, Canadian Lynx, Jaguar, Jaguarundi, and Ocelot. The last three are only found in Mexico and Texas, but that is still North America.

What about the Florida panther regarded as an endangered species?

The Florida panther is just a subspecies of cougar.

Used to see bobcats all the time around my parent’s apartment in Greenville, TX, but in the last 10 years or so the area has had a lot of construction and they disappeared, or went into hiding. They would get into fights with and kill housecats sometimes, but they were usually pretty unobtrusive to humans.

I’ve got a factoid floating around in my head that says that the biggest predator of domestic cats (and dogs) is the coyote, whose numbers are on the rise nationwide.

So maybe feral feline wannabes had to cope with Coyote Trickster as well as Ol’ Stumptail. :slight_smile:

Well, I’m still not exactly following you, Gaspode. I am not aware there have ever been any wild/feral dingos in the Carolinas, North or South. You’re not by some chance thinking of Red Wolves, are you? Which of course are something quite different than a dingo.

Nope, I’m thinking of Carolina dingoes.

Thanks for the link Gaspode. The article is quite fascinating. The term “Carolina Dingo,” though, seems to be something someone has recently coined in order to give credibility to the idea that these critters actually are lineal descendents of the dogs of the Indians. I have of course heard of (and have often seen) the classic southern “yaller dog” (as in Disney’s “Old Yeller”). I’m skeptical that they will really be found to be genetically distinct after 400 years of mixing with European stock, but I’ll be interested to see what research might turn up.

Smithsonian had an article on these dogs (March 1999) that showed that they were genetically closer to other “so-called primitive dogs” than to most breed dogs. I believe it also discussed historical evidence of the breed co-existing with the Indians, and also that this may be the proto-dog form, from which all other breeds spring.

Thanks, everybody, I’ve learned a lot from this thread. I have to say the jaguarundi is a pretty weird species.