A new research study has found that pet, stray, and feral cats are killing a tremendous number of wild animals. While this news is likely to upset many cat owners and cat lovers, the study’s conclusions should not be ignored. (If and how they become translated into public policy is another question.) The research was conducted by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
These organizations are not exactly lightweights — generally, they are well-respected, to say the least. According to their study, 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals die every year in the United States because of domesticated cats.
Some of these cats have human owners and some don’t, but they all are potentially wildlife killers. Though some cat owners may claim their pets don’t kill birds or other animals because they are well-fed, cats are predators, and they still respond to prey aggressively. It doesn’t matter if a cat is well-fed, it can retain its instinct to hunt and kill small animals for challenge and to be physically active. Though it probably doesn’t eat the small birds or other animals it kills, the interest in preying upon them is active.
One reason cat owners may not know their cats are killing wildlife is that they are nocturnal animals, meaning they are more active at night when their owners are sleeping. Who knows exactly what they are doing for hours at a time unattended. A Georgia woman didn’t believe her cat was killing wild animals until scientists mounted a very small camera to her pet. Then she saw the video footage and was very surprised to find out how many animals were dying because of its hunting behavior.
There is no question cats can be beautiful animals to observe and that they can also make great pets. However, when we don’t know our own pets, they can do a phenomenal amount of damage. Even small cats can be formidable hunters, and if the research is correct, there could be about 160 million owned and unowned cats in the United States. These cute felines are damaging natural wildlife populations — but it isn’t their fault, since they are merely doing what comes naturally.
We all need to be more aware of the consequences of cat ownership and of not getting them fixed. Feral cats can multiply quickly and decimate local bird populations. The Las Vegas Valley alone might have 300,000 feral cats. The cause of the country’s cat overpopulation problem is not the cats themselves, but people who don’t manage their cats responsibly.