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Cats & the environment

A while back I ran a post on a really silly article in The Age defending the role of feral cats in the environment arguing that negative attitudes toward them were analogous to racism towards migrants.  The facts are that cats are among the most destructive element in our local environment.

This claim is verified in a recent US study.  A peer-reviewed study published today and authored by scientists from two of the world’s leading science and wildlife organizations – the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) – has found that bird and mammal mortality caused by outdoor cats is much higher than has been widely reported, with annual bird mortality now estimated to be 1.4 to 3.7 billion and mammal mortality likely 6.9 – 20.7 billion individuals. As one of the authors states:

 “The very high credibility of this study should finally put to rest the misguided notions that outdoor cats represent some harmless, new component to the natural environment. The carnage that outdoor cats inflict is staggering and can no longer be ignored or dismissed. This is a wake-up call for cat owners and communities to get serious about this problem before even more ecological damage occurs”.

The median number of birds killed by cats annually is 2.4 billion and the median number of mammals killed is 12.3 billion. About 69% of the bird mortality from cat predation and 89% of the mammal mortality was from un-owned cats. Un-owned cats are defined to include farm/barn cats, strays that are fed but not granted access to human habitations, cats in subsidized colonies, and cats that are completely feral.

 Free-ranging cats on islands have caused or contributed to 33 (14%) of the modern bird, mammal, and reptile extinctions recorded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of threatened animals and plant species.

 Native species make up the majority of the birds preyed upon by cats. On average, only 33% of bird prey items identified to species were non-native species in 10 studies. Studies of mammals in suburban and rural areas found that 75–100% of mammalian prey were native mice, shrews, voles, squirrels, and rabbits, all of which serve as food sources for birds of prey such as hawks, owls, and eagles.

 The study charges that, “Despite these harmful effects, policies for management of free-ranging cat populations and regulation of pet ownership behaviors are dictated by animal welfare issues rather than ecological impacts”. (my bold)

This is denying precisely the view of the foolish Age article.  To be clear I have no antagonism towards cats and agree that these faithless creatures give pet owners much pleasure.   But I  believe that feral and free-ranging cats should be destroyed and that cat ownership should be absolutely denied to those living within a few kilometres of parks and wildlife reserves. (1121)

7 comments to Cats & the environment

  • Jim Rose

    sorry HC, no chance. dangerous dog laws are weak despite frequent attacks on children and adults.

    cats do not threaten people so the cat lobby is the most powerful in town.

  • Sir Henry Casingbroke

    This is a sound conversation starter H but why put in the counterproductive sting of “faithless”? We want cat owners’ cooperation here.

    This is just a gibe, because you have no evidence for claiming that, since you are not a cat owner, one presumes. If you were a cat owner then you would be a hypocrite, obviously, especially as a twitcher of some repute. So you haven’t observed a companion cat.

    Various cats have differing personalities and many individuals are incredibly faithful and affectionate. Some are selfish bastards. Just like people.

    Having said all that, I agree that despite their wonderful qualities as companion animals, they are a major and catastrophic menace to our wildlife.

    I admit that I have a cat. We keep it inside overnight and for most of the day. I have a huge house with indoor-outdoor space so it is not a hardship for her. She is let out in the morning but is back inside around lunchtime. She goes outside reluctantly She demands to be allowed to return inside about an hour or two after being sent out. Hence it is a fallacy that all cats must be allowed outside to play and that it is cruel to deny them that.

    Like prohibition on smoking on public transport and in restaurants and now increasingly, in public places and spaces, we can adjust our community life and expectations by pointing out that it is anti-social and wrong to allow cats to roam the suburbs and the adjoining bush at night. It is part of the solution. I agree something has to be done about it. But we have to work hard towards it like the anti-gun lobby has done and like anti-smoking campaigners have done – amazing progress in the space of 20 years or so. Managing cats should be no different.

  • hc

    Sir Henry, I agree with everything you write. The word “faithless” is probably redundant. I am not a big fan of cats and prefer dogs as pets. But I agree with your views and think you last para, in particular, makes very good points.

  • Jim Rose

    see http://animal.discovery.com/breedselector/catselectorindex.do if you want to choose your next cat with more discernment. the cats101 cat selector has ten criteria and recommends many options

    The anti-smoking groups basked in the reflected glory of rapidly rising incomes and even more rapidly rising life expectancies between 1900 and 1965.

    When people expected to live well into their 60s and then into their 70s, smoking related disease started to be a real threat.

    Prior to the 1960s, something else would get you first, including world wars 1 and 2. People born in the 1920s had a 10% chance of dying before they were aged 15.

    Most of all, antismoking is about safeguarding human health, not native widelife.

  • Sir Henry Casingbroke

    Jim Rose, this is analogy and an example of turning around social behaviour that once would have seemed to be an insurmountable task. Keeping cats by humans is also social behaviour. Something has to be done about cats and the way to do it is by generating a consensus so it does not become a partisan punch and judy show. Proscribing smoking through laws and council bylaws has also been done by consensus and public argument, even propaganda, if you like. Ditto condom wearing to stop the spread of aids. Analogy is a valid and legitimate tool in arguing a case.

  • conrad

    “Something has to be done about cats”

    One way to reduce their numbers would be to legalize Australian animals as pets. These would displace some cats as pets, and people with Australian animals would get annoyed when their neighbors cat attacked their pet in their own property. This would create some force for people to do things like keep their cats inside at night and keep them in their own property.

  • Jim Rose

    why do native wildlife and national parks have an existence value in cost-benefit analysis, but domestic cats do not?

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