The Biggest Threat to U.S. Wildlife? Cats

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Earlier this month a New Zealand economist named Gareth Morgan made plenty of enemies among cat lovers by insisting that mankind needed to ditch its feline friends before they decimate local bird and animal species.

According to a new study, published Jan. 29 by the journal Nature Communications, things may be even worse than Morgan thought.  Cats are apparently responsible for killing birds and mammals on a massive scale. Based on a systematic review and quantitative estimates never before conducted in the mainland U.S., researchers found that house cats were responsible for the deaths of between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds and between 7 and 20 billion mammals each year.

The cute, purring bundles of fur have long been recognized for their killer instinct and excellent hunting ability, and have been blamed for the global extinction of up to 33 species, reports the BBC.

( VIDEO: Welcome to Your Cat’s Dream Home)

The new research, by scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenges previously held assumptions about the volume of animals killed by cats. “For the last 20, 30, 40 years the number that has been batted around as a max was about 500 million,” said Peter Marra, one of the senior authors behind the study, to National Geographic.

The authors discovered that the majority of kills could be attributed to ownerless cats, including barn cats, strays and feral colonies. The research showed that the animals largely prey on non-native mice and rats in densely populated urban areas, while in rural areas they target mice, shrews, voles, squirrels and even rabbits.

(MORECat Travels 200 Miles to Return to Owners and Baffle Scientists)

Faced with the staggering numbers, the study’s authors have gone so far as to suggest that cats are “likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for U.S. birds and mammals.”

According to Reuters, domestic cats are classified among the 100 worst non-native invasive species in the world. The authors suggest that owners could do more to limit the impact of their pets: “A major reason for the current nonscientific approach to management of free-ranging cats is that the mortality from cat predation is often argued to be negligible compared with other (human-caused) threats.”

(MORE:  New Zealand Economist: Abolish Pet Cats to Save Birds )

But it will be difficult convincing American cat lovers of that. Cat ownership has risen from about 56 million in the mid-1990s to 80 million today. The American Cat Fanciers Association also questioned the findings. “Yes, they’re going to catch the occasional bird. But I don’t personally believe they’re responsible for mass death and destruction,” Carol Barbee, president of the association, said to Reuters.

MORE: Killer Kitties: Study Proves They’re Not as Innocent As They Look

5 comments
ChristineShultzGrenat
ChristineShultzGrenat

Trap-Neuter-Return education should be part of this article. I wish that every news outlet would post potential solutions to the problems they report on.

jlee9372
jlee9372

Cats are essential part of human society for last 10,000 years, and we humans aren't going to get rid of cats ever.  Many  people love cats, and that's not going to change ever.  We do however must try to limit the cat population, because there are too many cats.  Too many cats are sitting in animal shelters, and there are too many homeless cats.  Only thing we must do as society is try to get the cat overpopulation under control.               

MollyDeMaison
MollyDeMaison

Are you kidding me? If it wasn't for cats, we would still be dealing with more mice and rats roaming about spreading disease and plagues on a massive scale- check your history books people, the bubonic plague ring a bell? News is news, I understand but even as an avid animal lover, this is very small in comparison to all the other issues America is facing at the present time.

ChrisFurney
ChrisFurney

Cats are as bad of vermin as rats- worse, because im not allergic to rats and noone cares if you kill them.  The guy in the video- "people consider cats as one of the family- he isn't going to tell me who to have in my family!" like that filthy beast is an human.  But that makes my point- with the epidemic levels of T Gondii and other zoonoses, the man who said that is quite probably insane from the parasites they carry.  He almost undoubtably "kisses" them too, which is a sure way to pick up that fecal parasite and others.  The fact that cats are a horribly damaging invasive species to wildlife is bad enough.  But we are being encouraged to have sex with disease carrying vermin by these insane people- and so are our children.  Family?  I know what I do when something threatens my family's health.  Make sure they keep a good visible collar on the thing.  And tags proving you've paid for it's medical care, please.    

AllenAtkinson
AllenAtkinson

How ridiculous. Man is the biggest killer of animals and other people on the planet. Trying to deflect the blame won't change that.