Tag: cats and the environment

Cats and birds: The topic is highly emotional and causes tempers to flare on both sides, as indicated by a study, according to which many cat owners perceive their animals’ hunting instincts, but either ignore the damage that occurs or consider it irrelevant – whereupon a flood of reader comments die Editor reached. Bird lovers disapprove of cats’ hunting instincts and would prefer to see them banished indoors – at least during the breeding season. Cat lovers, on the other hand, see the freedom of their animals restricted by this requirement and fear severe behavioral disorders in ex-release cats.

There is also no uniform picture within the scientific community and among nature conservation organizations. For the Viennese behavioral biologist and director of the Konrad Lorenz Research Center Kurt Kotrschal, who has also worked on cat-human relationships, one thing is clear: “The problem is not exactly small, probably many more European songbirds are killed by free-roaming and stray cats today than by Mediterranean bird trapping. And I’m not surprised that so many cat owners ignore hunting – after all, freedom and a little bit of anarchy are projected onto cats.”

On the other hand, cat researcher Dennis C. Turner from the Institute for Applied Ethology and Animal Psychology in Horgen, Switzerland, warns against misinterpreting studies made on cats’ prey routes: ” We actually still know far too little. Most studies were only carried out very locally and the results were then extrapolated to the entire country. But are the suburban results really representative, and are cats a threat to bird populations on a continental scale?”

Read also: How Do Plants Help the Environment

Can hunting cats threaten animal species?

The answer to that question is an unequivocal yes—when considering island ecosystems where cats (and most other mammals) never existed. The species living there have therefore not developed any corresponding escape behavior in their evolution and are unprepared for effective hunters. Cats are therefore considered to be the sole or main cause of the extinction of at least 33 bird species since 1600 – eight of them in New Zealand alone. Tibbles, a lighthouse keeper’s cat, probably killed at least the last surviving specimens of Stephen’s Island panties and laid them at the feet of its owner. The small, wren-like bird from the New Zealand island of Stephen became famous probably the only species whose “discoverer” – the cat – immediately eradicated it once and for all: today there are only 15 specimens left in museum collections.

Also, the loss of the Socorro pigeon in the wild is mostly due to feral domestic cats. On Marion Island in the sub-Antarctic Indian Ocean, hunters devoured more than 450,000 seabirds each year before ecologists were able to wipe them out entirely. And on the British Atlantic island of Ascension, introduced cats reduced breeding colonies of sooty terns from more than a million pairs to just 150,000 in the mid-1990s. This list could be continued for a long time and supplemented with reptiles and mammals that were also extinct: Along with rats, mice, and rabbits, cats are therefore considered to be the worst mammals introduced to islands – removing them from there is one of the priorities of international conservation.

Cats are similarly problematic in Australia, where they have been involved, in whole or in part, in the extinction of 28 species of mammals since their arrival on the fifth continent. Alongside foxes, they are considered the single greatest threat to native fauna – ahead of habitat destruction or a changed fire regime. An experiment in which the animals were allowed to hunt in fenced-in ecosystems or were excluded showed how quickly the cats can decimate smaller marsupials. Within a few months, the predators had then eradicated the existing long-haired rats, while these survived well in the cat-free areas. Smaller marsupial species can only survive where dingoes or, in Tasmania, marsupial devils occur because the cats here are kept in check by powerful predators.

Natural balance?

This question can be clearly answered in the negative: Although the cat follows its natural instincts, two unequal opponents meet: Domestic cats are usually fed, given medical care, and a comfortable home with hanging beds for cats. So they rarely have to face the rigors of the great outdoors, where they themselves are regulated by larger predators or lack of food. This is the case, for example, in parts of the United States, where they are a favorite food of coyotes in some suburban areas. However, this control by larger predators is not the rule. That’s why the cats don’t have to strictly define their territory and can therefore occur in unnaturally high densities

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