Before getting into today’s subject, I need to correct information in the caption accompanying the picture for the Animal Matters article for June 23, 2019. The caption stated that “There are many differences between felines that are called community cats and those referred to as feral.”
It should have read “…not many differences…” As the article pointed out, community cat colonies are generally composed of feral cats, semi-feral cats, and tame cats that have been lost or abandoned. The only difference among these cats is that feral cats are born in the wild and are not socialized to people. Otherwise they are all the same, and if they are ownerless, they are all community cats.
The most damaging myth about community cats blames them for being the primary cause of declining bird and wildlife populations. Individuals and organizations seeking to support their views or cause often cite “studies” based on bogus science. As Alley Cat Allies notes, there are many such studies, such as the Smithsonian, Nebraska, and Wisconsin studies, which did not use scientific methods in their research.
Do free-roaming cats eat birds and small wildlife? Of course they do if they are trying to survive and don’t have food available that is easier to get. So do snakes, weasels, squirrels, racoons, bobcats, red foxes and even larger birds. It’s called nature, and it has been going on for millions of years. There are predators and prey throughout the natural world.
According to the World Animal Foundation, studies have shown that cats are mainly scavengers that feed mostly on garbage and scraps. When hunting, they prefer rodents and other burrowing animals. Samples taken from the diets of outdoor cats show that common mammals appear three times more often than birds.
The Foundation points out that cats have lived outdoors for thousands of years. Indoor cats have become common only in the last 60 years or so after kitty litter became available. Cats have long had a place in the natural landscape.
But some people don’t accept this fact. For people who don’t like cats and see them as a nuisance, community cats are an easy target. Also because they are generally not adoptable, the cats have few defenders. Labeling the cats as villains responsible for decimating the local bird and wildlife populations makes it easier to support laws aimed at eradicating community cats.
The problem is, removing the cats or killing the cats won’t save birds and wildlife. The reason is, cats aren’t the villains. The real causes are human-led activities. Focusing on cats diverts attention from the impact of humans.
As the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project says, “The inarguable reality is that people, not cats, have most significantly damaged the environment, habitats and ecosystems and have done far more to endanger and eliminate bird species and wildlife. Even at its worst imagined, the effect of cats on wildlife and bird populations is minute compared to the effect of people.”
Humans reshape the environment to suit their needs. The World Animal Foundation cites habitat loss as the most critical threat to birds. Urbanization, industrial activities, farming, logging, road construction, and mining on an unprecedented scale all have enormous impacts on breeding and living areas for birds and wildlife.
The WAF says that human activities are responsible for up to 1.2 billion bird deaths every year. Collisions with windows kill 100 million birds annually. Collisions with automobiles kill 80 million. Seventy million die from exposure to pesticides.
Even some of the larger organizations that advocate for birds are beginning to understand that human intrusion, not cats, is the biggest problem for birds. In an Audubon Society study, climate change is predicted to severely affect approximately half of the North American bird population drastically.
Cats and wildlife have coexisted outdoors for thousands of years. Properly conducted scientific studies have shown that cats are part of the natural environment, and they do not significantly impact wildlife populations. It’s time to move past this damaging myth and place the blame where it truly belongs: on human-led activities like habitat destruction and pollution. We cannot solve a problem if we are unwilling to recognize and accept what the true problem is: in this case, people, not community cats.
Alice Kopacki is with Partners for Cats.