Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Cuddly Kitty or Cold Blooded Killer?




I have been a ”cat” person for a long time. My family always had cats, and the odd dead bird or vole on the porch was never a very surprising occurrence. The killer instincts of the various kitties could be toyed with using a laser pointer or bit of string. I didn't really think of the more wild elements of my pet as an issue, never mind even considering the possibility that they were a detriment to the surrounding area. However, apparently there are further reaching ecological consequences than I had previously imagined.

When it comes to light that domestic cats are responsible for the deaths of between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals annually the image quickly shifts from playful companion to coldblooded killer. These numbers are large enough to affect the ecological landscape of the US and people are starting to notice. Researchers based out of the Smithsonian Conservation center and US Fish and Wildlife service have executed a review of studies concerned with the violent, primal instincts of domestic cats and their effect on United States wildlife. Results suggest that our cuddly pets are likely the top threat to small American animals.

The study also reveals that most of the problem is stray or feral domestic cats, but warns against leaving pet cats completely blameless and suggests owners fit their cats with bells. One especially affected group is  birds native to the US, such as the Robin. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red list of threatened animal and plant species lists free ranging cats on islands as being the cause of or main contributing factor to 33 modern bird, mammal, and reptile extinctions. The United States is a large mainland country so it is harder to map the effects of domestic cats and easier to consider these numbers a small problem. But, how long will it be before species start going extinct while we sit there stroking our cat and wondering who blame?
Posted by Hunter Alexander (1)

5 comments:

  1. I learned about the threat cats pose to bird populations in an Ornithology class. Birds are so important to our ecosystem, they pollinate plants and eat decaying animals.

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  2. Is there a specific reason for why these cats kill birds and small mammals? I understand it's instinctual, but do they just kill to kill or do they have a more specific purpose, such as a food source?

    Kimberly Ty (3)

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    1. I think that depends on the situation of the cat. There are many feral and stray cats that probably hunt for a large portion of their food source. However if the cat is from a household where it is well fed regardless of hunting, these instincts are not really contributing to survival.

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  3. Gabrielle Wertheim (3)February 7, 2013 at 9:07 PM

    Does DNA and genetics have anything to do with their need to kill birds? I'm curious to see if maybe this instinctual need to kill is due to their shared genes with other more wild and dangerous cats.

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    1. The article below is about a genetic study linking domestic cats to their ancient ancestors and the beginnings of cat domestication. It says they have linked the lineage of domestic cats back to five female wildcats. It seems there are people are curious about the links between domestic and wild cats.

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/genetic-study-links-domestic-cats-to-wild-ancestors-100000-years-ago-455171.html

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