The Norman Transcript

September 30, 2012

Feral cats harm wildlife

For the Transcript
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — By Heath Herje

I frequently get calls about nuisance animals, either wild or domestic, roaming people’s property in Cleveland County. Most times it’s the usual deer, raccoon or gopher, but sometimes about a neighbor’s pet. Dog or cat, they both seem to be causing problems where they are allowed to roam free.

It seems everyone in America owns a cat or knows someone who does. Cats can make great pets and are hugely popular across the globe. While cats have many good qualities, they also have a few that can be very bad when it comes to small wildlife.

While many farmers, ranchers and homeowners enjoy seeing their cat catch “varmints” and parade them around the front porch to show off, others are concerned little fluffy is catching wildlife species they may not approve of like Bluebirds and baby rabbits.

Cats are predators with evolved hunting skills capable of killing just about anything smaller than them. They have highly-tuned senses capable of detecting the slightest movement, smell or sound. Cats have long been praised for being excellent mousers and can sometimes keep rodent populations in check around the farm and home.

While these skills and adaptations are great for catching unwanted critters like rats, they are also very good at catching wildlife we may enjoy such as birds, reptiles and amphibians. In fact, studies have shown that if left to roam, cats may kill twice weekly on average.  

A recent study by The Wildlife Society and the American Bird Conservancy found that a third of free-roaming housecats are capturing and killing wildlife. Conducted by the University of Georgia, in partnership with the National Geographic Society’s Crittercam program, the study attached “Kittycams” to the collars of 60 cats near Athens, Georgia. The cameras then recorded all outdoor activities as cats spent an average of six hours outside every day.

About 30 percent of the sampled individuals were successful in capturing and killing wildlife about once every 17 hours or 2.1 kills per week. Prey common in this study were birds, lizards, voles, chipmunks, frogs, and many others.   

Earlier estimates of one billion birds and other animals taken every year by housecats were based on mortality counts from cats that actually delivered their kills back to the residence. During the “Kittycam” studies, 49 percent of the time cats left their kill at the capture site and 28 percent were eaten and never brought home. Thus, it’s safe to say the impacts of an estimated 60 million feral cats roaming the country may have been hugely underestimated. 

George Fenwick, President of the American Bird Conservancy said, “If we extrapolate the results of this study across the country and include feral cats, we find that cats likely are killing more than 4 billion animals per year, including at least 500 million birds.” It’s safe to say, cats may be a threat to many small wildlife species including upland game birds such as quail, dove, young turkeys and songbirds.

Some cat lovers might not care about wildlife while some bird watchers may care nothing about cats, but the fact is dog and cat populations alike will continue to explode if owners allow their un-fixed animals to roam about and breed. Allowing pets to roam is bad in many ways, not to mention illegal in some areas. It can also put them in harms-way including the street, county road or highway.

More information can be found at the Norman Animal Shelter at 3428 Jenkins Ave.

So what can we do to prevent the negative impact housecats or feral cats have on small wildlife? One idea would be to keep them inside if they are indeed supposed to be an inside pet. Another simple idea that will help slow the increase of countless abandoned, stray or sheltered pets and their subsequent impact on wildlife is to simply neuter or spay the one you currently have. Bob Barker said it best, “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.”

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