Feral cats are the offspring of stray or abandoned domestic cats that revert to a wild state. Raised without human contact, they are fearful of humans. Feral cats are successful survivors, especially in urban areas, where they scavenge off garbage, leftover food from restaurant areas, and feedings by sympathetic people.
Feral cats live in streets, alleys, parks, and rural surroundings. They are the result of human neglect, pet owners who allow unsterilized domestic house cats to roam and reproduce. Stray and feral cats congregate near food sources such as garbage dumpsters, where rodents also collect to feed. The cats instinctively start breeding and form "colonies". An estimated 60 million feral cats live in the United States. They are a part of the urban ecology in virtually every city worldwide.
Attempts to eradicate (trap & KILL) whole colonies of cats usually fail because the ecological vacuum created is soon filled by other strays. Feral colonies are often regarded as a nuisance because of territorial behavior such as spraying, fighting and caterwauling during mating periods. Stabilizing the colony by TNR (trap-neuter-return) results in healthier animals, and eliminates much of their undesirable behavior.
In a recent poll it was estimated that 17.5 million people feed 35.2 million stray and feral cats in the United States. It seems a natural act for humans to feed an animal to keep it from starving. Those cats turned away from possible food sources will cross busy highways in search of other sustenance. They will suffer from malnutrition and starvation, and most will still survive and manage to add to the overpopulation of feral kittens. Isn't a good life in a managed, sterilized colony with a caretaker providing nutritious food much more preferable?
How can I tell if a cat is stray or feral?
Observe the cat's appearance and behavior. A stray cat is likely to approach you, although usually not close enough for you to touch him. He may be skittish, but if you put food down a stray cat will likely start to eat it right away. A stray cat is often vocal, sometimes talking insistently, and may look disheveled, as if unused to dealing with conditions on the street. A stray cat may be seen at all hours of the day. A feral cat is silent, will not approach humans unknown to him, and generally will be seen only from dusk to dawn, unless extraordinarily hungry and foraging for food. A feral cat has adapted to conditions and is likely to appear well-groomed. If you put food down for a feral cat, he will wait until you move away from the area before approaching the food.