Do you have a cat? We have two – an outdoor cat we’ve had since he was a few weeks old (and is now 12) and one indoor cat we inherited from my sister-in-law when they moved half-way across the country two years ago (supposedly a two-week babysitting … but I digress). Is your cat a hunter? Ours is – he regularly brings home mice and moles and rabbits and chipmunks and squirrels and birds and … you get the picture.
To date our biggest concern has been that he delivers these as presents to our dogs (12-pound Norfolk Terriers) who quickly gobble them down and occasionally end up sick as a result – and once our older dog got ‘impacted’ by swallowing one whole!
But read this:
“I think it will be impossible to deny the ongoing slaughter of wildlife by outdoor cats given the videotape documentation and the scientific credibility that this study brings,” said Michael Hutchins, Executive Director/CEO of The Wildlife Society, the leading organization for wildlife professionals in the United States. “There is a huge environmental price that we are paying every single day that we turn our backs on our native wildlife in favor of protecting non-native predatory cats at all cost while ignoring the inconvenient truth about the mortality they inflict.”
Pretty strong stuff there! So … where is this coming from? A research project out of the University of Georgia called ‘Kitty Cams’. Here is the basis of their work:
Kitty Cams research examined the nature of outdoor activities of owned cats by monitoring pets outfitted with “Kitty Cam” video cameras. Kitty Cams allow recording of a cat-eye view without disrupting behavior. We used Kitty Cams to investigate the activities of urban free-roaming cats in Athens, Georgia from Nov. 2010 -Oct. 2011, with goals for wildlife conservation and for improving the health and well-being of pet cats.
So what did they discover?
The results of the study showed that of the 60 cats wearing the cameras, 30% captured and killed prey with an average of one kill for every 17 hours spent outside, or 2.1 kills per week. The study also showed that cats bring home less than one quarter of their kills, so owners aren’t fully aware of just what kind of slaughter is going on in their own yards. It takes a little bit of high tech spy gear to reveal how murderous our fluffly little bags of purr really are.
American Bird Conservancy feels the news is fairly dire. “If we extrapolate the results of this study across the country and include feral cats we find that cats are likely killing more than 4 billion animals per year, including at least 500 million birds. Cat predation is one of the reasons why one in three American bird species are in decline,” said Dr. George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy, the only organization exclusively conserving birds throughout the Americas.
The highlighting is mine and includes two seemingly innocent but very important points: extrapolation means taking the results outside of where they are statistically valid. It is like saying that because none of your friends has experienced something that it doesn’t exist – we see this all the time on the internet, and is generally simply not true. Taking 60 cats and making statements about 4 billion animals being killed by cats is stretching things at best. The other issue is bringing feral cats into the discussion. While they are certainly an issue, it is an entirely separate thing to dealing with household pets.
Why am I nitpicking that statement? Because it raises good points – but is done in an alarmist and inaccurate way that undermines those points. As noted, “a minority of the cats studied went after wildlife.” This means that many cats don’t hunt.
Also, we know that when left unchecked, the populations of things like rabbits and mice will explode – so having ‘crowd control’ means like cats is not an unnatural thing. Also, when we look at dwindling populations of species, are we seriously thinking that housecats are more damaging than leveling forests to put up yet another strip mall or subdivision or widening the road so we can save 5 minutes on our commute? Seriously?
These are all intriguing questions that I really have no clue about: are our housecats really murderous villians or heroes maintaining balance of the food chain? I will leave that for later, because right now my cat has left another mouse on the front porch …