Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Cats as Killing Machines and Road Kill


Remote cameras have given scientists an unblinking eye that can watch the forest and field, night and day, at a thousand locations, in order to give us a better census of rare wildlife living in inhospitable and distant locations.

Radio telemetry has helped us track the migrations of hawks and cranes, as well as turtles, sharks, whales and even dragonflies.

Now, tiny video cameras attached to break-away collars of house cats show that these animals are a seriously destructive force to small animal populations, especially birds.  As USA Today reports:

While only 30% of roaming house cats kill prey — two animals a week on average — they are still slaying more wildlife than previously believed, according to research from the University of Georgia.

Wildlife advocates say it is a frightening level of feline foul play. Based on a U.S. house-cat population of 74 million, "cat predation is one of the reasons why one in three American birds species are in decline," says George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy.

"The previous estimates were probably too conservative because they didn't include the animals that cats ate or left behind," University of Georgia researcher Kerrie Anne Loyd says.

The cats brought home just under a quarter of what they killed, ate 30% and left 49% to rot where they died.

The carnage cuts across species. Lizards, snakes and frogs made up 41% of the animals killed, Loyd and fellow researcher Sonia Hernandez found. Mammals such as chipmunks and voles were 25%, insects and worms 20% and birds 12%. The researchers will present their findings this week at an Ecological Society of America conference in Portland, Ore.

While only 30% of roaming house cats kill prey — two animals a week on average — they are still slaying more wildlife than previously believed, according to research from the University of Georgia.

Wildlife advocates say it is a frightening level of feline foul play. Based on a U.S. house-cat population of 74 million, "cat predation is one of the reasons why one in three American birds species are in decline," says George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy.

"The previous estimates were probably too conservative because they didn't include the animals that cats ate or left behind," University of Georgia researcher Kerrie Anne Loyd says.

The cats brought home just under a quarter of what they killed, ate 30% and left 49% to rot where they died.

The carnage cuts across species. Lizards, snakes and frogs made up 41% of the animals killed, Loyd and fellow researcher Sonia Hernandez found. Mammals such as chipmunks and voles were 25%, insects and worms 20% and birds 12%. The researchers will present their findings this week at an Ecological Society of America conference in Portland, Ore.


The tiny cat cameras, built and installed specially for this project by the National Geographic CritterCam team, also found out why outside cats tend to have far shorter lives than indoor cats. Cats in the study were seen crossing roadways (45%), eating and drinking things they found (25%), exploring storm drains (20%) and entering crawl spaces where they could become trapped (20%).

Bottom line: If you have an outdoor cat, you are have already made your peace with your cat killing other things, and you have also made peace with your cat being killed as its roams around the neighborhood, field, forest, and farm.  If you have decided that your cat is entitled to behave like a wild animal, don't be surprised if  your cat's life ends like that of a wild animal -- dead from vehicle impact, bullet, trap, poison, or a mauling from a dog or coyote.  In the wild, few things die of old age with a morphine drip in the arm, and Mozart music in the background.

5 comments:

Seahorse said...

When our old cat was winding down and fighting an aggressive cancer last fall, the mouse population in our barn began to rise. The dogs couldn't seem to find the mice, who were largely making a mockery inside my equipment cabinets. After we put our cat down, we tried traps of various kinds, but no poison because it's too dangerous to the horses and dogs. No dice, we didn't catch ONE. The little bastards were winning the war. Just before Christmas I located two young cats at the shelter, bailed them and got them working. Presto-change-o, the tide began to turn and today the problem is largely solved. You're right, it's a trade-off. They bring home the odd bird and lizard, which I mourn, but they very greenly take care of my main problem, mice. I do worry about them outside, but it's the pact I make because they have a job to do.

Seahorse

Water Over The Dam said...

My grandfather told me that when he was young a man came around with a truck (horse drawn) full of terriers to do barn clean-out. My old Scottie was a death-machine on mice - and other things, I even once saw her kill a pigeon in mid-air, three feet off the ground, much like that photo of the cat. (The pigeon had landed in our back yard when the dog was out there, pigeons are slow to get off the ground.) But she lived in the house and went out on a leash. She didn't kill songbirds or lizards; a dog is a lot easier to control than a cat. People in towns and suburbs should keep the cats indoors if it is a pet. There are way too many cats.

janey said...

In Georgia, there is a program...SpayGeorgia, where low-cost spay/neuter certificates are provided for pet owners that need financial assistance. Vet services are subsidized. Unfortunately in the county I live, feral cats are lumped into this as well. They are trapped in havaharts, spayed and or neutered, ear notched for identification purposes from afar and released to play havoc on wildlife. This "catch & release" program is absurd. Pet cats allowed to roam do enough damage!


janey

The Doubtful Guest said...

I'm definitely NOT a fan of TNR (trap, neuter, and release).

Kitty Carroll said...

TNR is highly discouraged in Florida. Florida FWC has closed all TNR colonies on public lands. On private property there are some still in use. TNR is not a viable solution to the cat over population. Removing cats from the environment is. For rodent control, put up owl and kestrel nest boxes. You will have a much better and sound solution to rodent problems. The cane fields in S. Florida started putting up nest boxes. The rodent problem is much lower.