UNITED KINGDOM – Few of us would happily harbor a cold-hearted killer under within own home. So the owners of the nation’s 7.4 million cats may be alarmed to hear that their beloved fur ball is, in fact, a brutal menace, responsible for the slaughter of millions of birds and pushing several species, as well as some mammals and reptiles, to extinction.
This is NOT our opinion at here at The Best Cat Page.
The controversial assertion of American scientist Dr. Pete Marra, who in his new book, which is called Cat Wars: the Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, seeks to reveal the extent of the ecological damage caused by our favorite felines.
Whether they are hunting species to the brink or spreading the potentially fatal toxoplasmosis parasite in their poop, Dr Marra, of the Smithsonian migratory bird center in Washington, takes a very dim and grim view of cats – although he insists he’s not a cat hater.
He is strongly advocating cat owners to keep all pet cats indoors (or on a lead when outdoors) and, in extreme cases, the culling of large populations of feral cats to control their numbers.
“From a conservation ecology perspective, the most desirable solution seems clear – remove all free-ranging cats from the landscape by any means necessary,” he has written.
It’s a very bleak view, calculated to leave owners wondering whether their kitty should be placed under immediate house arrest, not just for its own sake, but for society’s.
However, Dr. Marra’s assertions have met with quite a bit of resistance from both cat and conservation experts, who question the science behind his conclusions, as well as his judgment in espousing views that could result in an outbreak of cat persecution.
“I think the book is very unhelpful for the British cat owner,” states Dr. John Bradshaw, director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol and a leading cat behavior expert. “There are lots of people out there that don’t like cats, so to give them an excuse to do something nasty to a cat is just unforgivable.”
However, given that cats in the UK are responsible for killing 55 million birds every year, according to a study by the Mammal Society, doesn’t Dr. Marra have a valid point? No, demands Jeff Knott, head of nature policy at the RSPB.
“It’s a lot but just because it’s a big number doesn’t mean there’s a conservation-level impact,” he states.
This, Knott went on to explain, is because garden birds have evolved to withstand a high level of predation. “Blue tits can produce 12 chicks in a year as part of a brood. They only need one to survive to the next breeding season in order to keep the population stable. Evidence shows that in gardens, cats take a lot of birds, but it’s not a conservation problem.”
While Knott welcomes any efforts by owners to help curb their cats’ taste for feathered flesh, he sees the use of a lead or full-time incarceration as an unnecessary measure.
However, cat-related conservation problems do arise, he states, particularly in remote areas such as the Isles of Scilly and Scottish islands where bird species haven’t been exposed to mammalian predators. “There have been cases where we’ve had to remove cats,” he states (the RSPB removed all feral cats from Ascension Island, a British territory in the Atlantic, during 2006).
Though it has caused a fur-ore in the UK, Cat Wars is written from a global perspective, which means it covers episodes such as the extinction of the Stephens Island wren in New Zealand, to the idea of cats as “agents” of rabies in other countries.
It is this broad approach which makes Dr. Marra’s assertions misleading to British cat owners, says Telegraph vet Pete Wedderburn: “He’s taken some specific issues from other parts of the world and applied them generally.
“Countries like New Zealand have native species that have never adapted to having a predator like a cat around. But in Europe, cats have been part of our ecosystem for thousands of years and nothing has changed. The rest of the wildlife population is adapted to that.”
5 WAYS TO STOP A FURRY KILLER
1.) Keep your cats in overnight – small birds and small mammals are active at dawn and dusk
2.) Be sure to feed your cat well before letting them out – it might just stop them hunting down an extra snack
3.) Site bird feeders far away from cover and off the floor – this will give birds a fighting chance of escaping a hunting cat
4.) Fit a bell on a well-fitting collar, so that your cat’s surprise attack will suddenly become very loud and clear
5.) You may purchase a ‘cat bib’, which attaches to your cats collar and prevents them achieving the perfect hunting angle
Indeed, Dr. Bradshaw, who is co-author of The Trainable Cat, regards the idea that pet cats are murdering animals as highly dubious given, he says, that they are not really very skilled at it.
“The vast majority of pet cats are really pathetic hunters because they don’t learn how to do it. It takes quite a long time to learn, about two months. Mother cats in people’s homes don’t tend to teach kittens as they eat cat food every day.”
Although the instinct to go out and hunt is very much part of a cat’s DNA, Dr. Bradshaw has cited research which showed that cats on a balanced diet were less likely to go hunting. Cat food since during the Seventies has been more nutritionally complete. “Before then we didn’t fully understand what they needed,” he says.
But what about those 55 million birds? Dr. Bradshaw paints a less blood-curdling picture of our pet cats’ kill count.
“Data shows the animals that pet cats kill are sick and weak animals that are probably doomed anyway,” he states. “They’ll come across a bird that’s fluttering about and not feeling very well and they’ll pounce on it and kill it. Then they’ll bring it home because they don’t really know what to do with it next.”
Indeed, when the 2016 State of Nature report, which was compiled by more than 50 conservation organizations, was released last week, cats didn’t even come close to cracking the top 10 in a list of the key causes of wildlife decline in the UK. Habitat destruction and use of pesticides are actually a bigger problem than Tiddles.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t instances in which a responsible cat owner should keep their pet indoors. including for their own safety.
“When you see lots of cats roaming about, it isn’t about hunting at all,” states Dr. Bradshaw. “It’s about securing the neighborhood because they need ‘property’. If cats had dinner parties they would talk about house prices more than we do. They need a place that’s not going to be attacked by other cats.”
So in high-density cat areas, keeping a timid pet in at night may just protect them from more “confident” neighbors. Cat owners who may live close to busy roads and railway lines may also choose to confine their cats.
Leashes can also be of use for those living in built-up areas. “In Central Park in New York, it’s become a common sight,” claims Dr. Bradshaw.
More responsible cat ownership would be very welcomed by Pete Wedderburn. “I would like to see compulsory microchipping of cats, as there is for dogs,” he claims. “Then we can have accountability of owners for what their cats get up to. Cats are currently seen as independent creatures and if one cat is terrorizing a neighborhood the owner can simply shrug their shoulders.”
Are our cats enemies of the environment? Certainly NOT!