Major challenges to felid populations include habitat loss or fragmentation, management of cat-human interactions, the collection and killing of felids for the pet and fashion trades, and disappearance of natural prey. Additionally, reduced population sizes increase vulnerability to extinction due to natural disasters, epidemics, and inbreeding depression. According to the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species, 29 of the 36 recognized species of felids are currently in decline, and 5 of the remaining 7 species have insufficient population data to determine demographic trends. Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) are listed as critically endangered and are one of the most endangered animals on the planet, with a maximum of 143 individuals remaining in 2 separate breeding populations. Including tigers (Panthera tigris) and snow leopards (Panthera uncia), 6 other species are listed as endangered. CITES, which was created in part over concerns that international fur trade would drive many felids to extinction, currently lists 23 species or subspecies under Appendix I, with all remaining species placed under Appendix II. The North American Endangered Species Act lists 8 species or subspecies of North American felids as threatened or endangered, including jaguars (Panthera onca), ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), and panthers (Puma concolor).
Currently, conservation efforts are focused on habitat preservation, captive breeding, and reintroductions. Numerous cat species have been reintroduced or translocated throughout parts of their range where they were once extinct. Aside from the reintroduction of European wild cats in Bavaria, Canada lynx in northern New York State, and bobcats to Cumberland Island, Georgia, few reintroductions have been truly successful. The majority of felid reintroductions fail due to a lack of careful planning and execution, which is directly linked to a lack of time and money. In addition, a majority of large cat reintroductions fail because management teams don't take into consideration four important points. First, reintroduction efforts must consider the conditions under which past translocation events were successful, especially the movement of animals into established populations. Second, management teams often fail to appropriately train captive-bred animals to be successful predators in their native habitat. Third, prior to a reintroduction or translocation event it is imperative that the various genetic and morphological differences between different subpopulations are well understood. Finally, the support and receptivity of local human communities must be assessed prior to reintroducing a potentially dangerous predator. Many felid populations are currently in decline largely because of persecution by humans. If felid reintroduction is not supported by local communities, such attempts are likely to fail.
In 1996, the IUCN published an action plan for the conservation of large cats, which included a list of 105 "priority projects". The "general conservation plan" called for a number actions that were believed to aid in the conservation of all felid species. For example, the establishment of a "cat conservation center" would result in a centralized data management center that would solicit potential donors for funding and help carry out the directives suggested by the conservation action plan as a whole. In addition to a generalized action plan, species specific action plans were formulated for 43 different cat species. Since 1996, the IUCN's Cat Specialist Group has helped launch numerous research efforts aimed at addressing the conservation goals outlined in their 1996 conservation plan. In 2004, the Cat Specialist Group established a "digital cat library" that contains more than 6,000 "papers and reports relevant to the conservation of wild cats", and in 2005 the first captive bred Iberian lynx litter was born, which served as a giant symbolic leap in the long journey of felid conservation.
- CITES, 2010. "CITES" (On-line). CITES Species Database. Accessed March 29, 2011 at http://www.cites.org/eng/resources/species.html.
- IUCN, 2010. "IUCN SSC/Cat Specialist Group" (On-line). Accessed March 29, 2011 at http://www.catsg.org/catsgportal/20_catsg-website/home/index_en.htm.
- IUCN, 2010. "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Mammals. Accessed March 29, 2011 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/initiatives/mammals.
- U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2010. "U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service" (On-line). Endangered Species Program. Accessed March 29, 2011 at http://www.fws.gov/endangered/species/us-species.html.