Tag: predators

Conservationists Want Cat Owners On Their Side

Wildlife conservationists are worried, and they have a right to be.

In addition to the billions of animals we humans kill every year in our ruthless exploitation of life on this planet, our pet cats have their own separate impact, killing birds and small mammals in significant numbers.

Yet conservationists aren’t making headway with cat lovers, primarily because their approach frequently relies on shaming and drastic, often cruel proposals: Some Australian states are outright culling cats, offering $10 a head for adults and $5 for kittens, for example, while a pair of academics from the Netherlands advocate criminally prosecuting cat owners who let their pets outside combined with a policy of euthanizing millions of cats. Extremists in the US are pushing for similar measures, arguing that TNR (trap, neuter, return) isn’t an effective way of managing cat populations.

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Something has to be done, and a few smart conservationists are realizing the accusatory, Richard Dawkins-style of engaging “the enemy” just causes people to withdraw, not to listen and cooperate.

“I get quite sick of the conflict focus of some conservation biologists,” Wayne Linklater, chairman of the environmental studies department at California State, tells New Scientist. “The solutions lie with the people who care most about cats, not with the people who don’t care about them.”

Great. Now there are a few things conservationists should know as they engage with people who care for cats:

  • Most of us want what you want: We want cat owners to keep their pets inside. Cats aren’t wild animals. They have no “natural habitat” and contrary to misconceptions, they don’t belong outside. They’re not equipped to provide for themselves, and they face dangers from traffic, predators like coyotes and mountain lions, fights with other cats, and perverse humans who kill and torture them for fun. Strays and ferals live short, brutal lives (living to an average of 3.5 years) while indoor cats live 17 years on average. The “cats belong inside” angle is common ground from which to start a dialogue.
  • Stop repeating bunk studies as fact! The idea that cats are an all-consuming plague on wildlife came about as a result of a handful of studies, yet all but the most recent of them are based on old data and manipulated numbers compiled by people with an agenda. One of the earliest studies, which claimed cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals annually, relies so heavily on invented numbers and massaged data that it’s worthless and outright dangerous to informed discourse on the topic, yet it’s repeated as fact by credulous conservationists and the press. Knowing the true scope of the problem is key to understanding whether mitigation efforts really work. Misinformation only sabotages those efforts.
  • Come get your people: Peter Marra is one of the co-authors of the bunk 2013 Nature Communications study with the above oft-cited numbers, and he’s also the author of the shrill Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer. Marra is an advocate of using taxpayer money to kill millions of cats. He also says that anyone who questions his claims about cats — a group that includes major animal rescues, welfare organizations, and many academics — is tantamount to climate change deniers and tobacco companies that denied for decades that cigarettes have a negative effect on health. Marra’s major contributions amount to sowing misinformation, polarizing the issue and inflaming opinions on both sides. Everything about his behavior indicates he wants to sell books and promote himself, not save wildlife from predatory domestic cats. He should not be taken seriously and his research should not be reported as fact.

Cat lovers are, by definition, animal lovers. They’re people who care about wildlife and domestic animal welfare. It shouldn’t be difficult to engage with them.

At the same time, cat advocates need to purge the crazies out of their ranks as well. Sending death threats to scientists (see the New Scientist link up top) is way out of order, it’s inhuman behavior and it only hurts the legitimacy of our cause.

A good first step toward reconciliation could involve enlisting cat owners in an effort to properly study feline impact on small wildlife, producing reliable data to facilitate a measured, fact-based approach that doesn’t begin and end with the notion that cats are hellspawn.
If all sides engage in good faith, there’s no reason why we can’t protect wildlife and cats.

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Real Life Cats Are The Villains of Nintendo’s Newest Game

Nintendo’s newest game has been out for all of one day and already cats are like “Nuh-uh.”

The idea behind Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is clever yet simple and seemingly tailored for the pandemic era: Using a Nintendo Switch, players control a tiny Mario Kart equipped with a camera and race it around courses they design in their homes. Because players are controlling the kart through a screen and seeing things from the kart’s point of view, the game augments the race course by generating obstacles to dodge, coins to collect and opponents to race against.

It’s called augmented reality, because it adds layers of computer-generated imagery over things we can see with our own eyes. It’s the same concept behind smart glasses and floating heads-up displays.

But there’s one wild card Nintendo’s designers may not have anticipated: Felis catus.

Nothing grabs a cat’s attention quicker than a small, fast-moving object, and the little karts have been triggering the predatory instincts of countless cats.

Some cats go all “You shall not pass!” Gandalf-style on the karts:

Others aren’t sugar coating what they think of the invasive little cartoon racers:


Finally, some cats just don’t know what to make of it:

The best part about this is that, from the kart’s eye view, house cats look like furry kaiju — giant, lumbering beasts hell bent on sending the racers careening off course.

It also begs the question: Is there anything in existence that cannot be improved by adding cats?

No, A Study Did Not Conclude Cats Kill 20 Billion Birds And Small Animals Yearly

Talk to birders, casual conservationists or anyone who says they’re worried about the ecological impact of cats on native bird and mammal populations, and without fail they’ll bring up The Study.

Yeah, that one: A 2013 study, published in Nature Communications, that claimed cats kill “billions” of prey animals each year in the U.S. alone — including 3.7 billion birds and up to 20 billion small mammals in the contiguous states.

What activists won’t acknowledge is the fact that there are fatal flaws in the research, flaws that have been repeated in a new study claiming cats kill 10 times as many small animals as wild predators.

Let’s break it down:

The researchers don’t actually know how many animals cats are responsible for killing. Both the 2013 Nature Communications study and the 2020 Animal Conservation study rely on owner questionnaires to estimate the number of animals pet cats kill outdoors and to assign numerical scores to their cats’ “hunting skills.” In other words, the study authors are relying on people who have no idea what their cats are doing outside to give them supposedly accurate figures on how many birds, rabbits and reptiles little Fluffy and Socks kill every year. As for people evaluating the hunting skills of their cats, how exactly do they do that? Do they consult nonexistent scoreboards? Do they find a dead mouse or two and conclude that Socks is the GOAT hunter?

The people who took the surveys were self-selected. These aren’t random samples. The questionnaires were given to people who actively volunteered to participate in the studies.

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Friend or snack?

 

 

  • In both cases, researchers supplemented their questionnaire data with estimates of “additional” animals killed by cats. Or to put it bluntly, the research teams invented numbers and plugged them in. They’ll claim they arrived at those numbers via analysis, but again, these are studies that rely on owner questionnaires for the bulk of the predation data. Any conclusions drawn from that data are automatically suspect.
  • The 2013 study was centered around a meta-analysis of earlier studies, not fresh data. For the numbers they didn’t have, researchers derived figures from older published studies. For example, they added billions of “kills” to the tally and attributed those phantom kills to “unowned cats.” The problem? No one knows exactly how many stray and feral cats roam America’s streets and countrysides, a fact the research team admitted in the 2013 study: “no empirically driven estimate of un-owned cat abundance exists for the contiguous U.S.,” they wrote.
  • The best estimates claim between 20 million and 120 million feral and stray cats live in the contiguous U.S. That’s a spread of 100 million! How can a research team estimate how many prey animals are killed by cats when they can’t even get a fix on the cat population? The numbers matter: If there are only 20 million ferals and strays, each of them would have to kill more than 1,000 animals a year to account for the study estimates.
  • Headlines trumpeting the 2020 study say it’s based on GPS data, but that’s only partially true. Yes, the team used GPS data from a small number of cats belonging to self-selected study participants, but that data tells them nothing about how many animals those cats are killing. The GPS data only indicates where cats go when they wander, not what they do. In this study, as in the last, researchers relied on questionnaires, which in turn assumes cat owners have exceptional memories and can account for everything their furry friends do outdoors when no one’s watching them.

The stakes are high, as NPR noted in a story about the 2013 study: The resulting headlines are repeated as gospel in newspapers across the country and on countless news sites, which in turn influences how people feel about cats. They influence politicians and proposed laws as well, with several countries looking to ban outdoor cats.

Buddy's claws
One cat who has zero kills: “I am NOT an inept hunter! You don’t want to tangle with these talons, bro.”

Nuance, such as the 2013 study’s admission that an unknowable number of animals are killed by “collisions with man-made structures, vehicles [and] poisoning,” is usually left out of those stories.

After all, no one’s seriously proposing an end to the automobile industry despite studies claiming untold billions of animals die as roadkill annually.

A quick Google search turns up hundreds of articles with breathless headlines like To Save Birds, Should We Kill Off Cats?, The Moral Cost of Cats, and Cat Owners Turn Blind Eye To Pets’ Violence.  There are alarmist books, too, like the hysterically-named Cat Wars: The Consequences of a Cuddly Killer.

In some Australian territories, authorities have open bounties offering $10 for the scalps of adult cats and $5 for the scalps of kittens. Is this what we’ve come to? Killing baby animals based on hysteria over bunk science?

“It’s virtually impossible to determine how many cats live outside, or how many spend some portion of the day outside,” Wayne Pacelle, former president of the Humane Society of the United States, told NPR at the time. The scientists “have thrown out a provocative number for cat predation totals, and their piece has been published in a highly credible publication, but they admit the study has many deficiencies. We don’t quarrel with the conclusion that the impact is big, but the numbers are informed guesswork.”

And that’s the important thing here: Instead of calling for a mass culling of cats based on wild estimates of their environmental impact, we should be working cooperatively on solutions to curb their opportunities to hunt, starting with simple measures like keeping cats indoors.

We don’t need another study with wild estimates of feline impact on small wildlife. What we need are smart plans and the will to implement them as a society.

(First image credit Earth.com. Second image credit CatsAndBirds.ca. Third photo is Buddy, the Inept Hunter.)

 

Reason #138 To Keep Your Cats Indoors: Mountain Lions

Just to clear up any misunderstandings — and hopefully stave off more of those “Would a tiger and a house cat be good friends?” questions — cats aren’t down with each other just because they’re cats.

You won’t see a jaguar high-fiving a jaguarundi like “Sup bro? Hunt anything delicious lately?”

And you sure as hell won’t see your cat shooting the shit with a puma on your back porch, trading war stories about taking down prey.

Nope. To the puma, your cat is the prey.

That’s what happened early on Thursday morning in Boulder Creek, California, where footage from a Ring doorbell cam shows a puma — also known as a mountain lion or cougar — hovering over something partially obscured by a planter. There’s a flash of domestic kitty eyes for the briefest instant, then more noise followed by the puma walking away with the cat in its jaws.

Cougar/Puma
Despite their large size, cougars are not considered “big cats” and are not aggressive toward humans. Source: CBS2NY

Sue Ann Sheely, whose camera caught the attack, said it’s the second time she’s seen a local cat fall victim to a cougar. She sent the footage to a local news station so her neighbors will finally wise up and bring their cats indoors.

Like coyotes, pumas aren’t breeding in greater numbers or suddenly intruding on human territory: We’re the intruders, chipping away at the wild cat’s habitat with each new housing development and strip mall we build. The majestic-looking cats die in unusually high numbers when roads cut through their ranges, and simply brushing up against a human neighborhood is often enough to get them shot.

With fractured habitats and fewer prey animals to hunt, pumas will sometimes turn to domestic animals as prey. Attacks on humans are exceedingly rare, and pumas normally do their best to steer clear of humans.

Previously, we’ve looked at other reasons to keep your cat indoors: Reason #127 To Keep Your Cats Indoors: Bad Guys, Reason #246 To Keep Your Cats Indoors: Coyotes, and Reason #001 To Keep Your Cats Indoors: Traffic.

Jaguarundi
The jaguarundi may be small, but it doesn’t mess around. Credit: CostaRicaJourneys

Cats: Adorable Even When They’re Committing Murder

A few weeks ago I chanced upon the above image.

“What a cute kitty,” I thought, then squinted. “Wait… Is that a dead mouse clamped between her teeth?”

After zooming in and verifying that, yes, that is a poor rodent meeting its unfortunate end, I came to a profound realization: Cats are cute even when they’re committing murder.

Like this little guy below: Totally cute. Totally thinking about murder.

Cute cat and mouse
“My hobbies include eating, sleeping, knocking items off flat surfaces, and murder. I’m really passionate about murder.”

Think about that for a second. We love cats because they’re great companions. They’re loving despite all the myths that claim they’re not, they’re cute, and they’re endlessly amusing.

We welcome them into our homes, adjust our schedules to their needs, and fret about how they might not like a new brand of litter or a newly-arranged living room.

We laugh when they shred paper and enthusiastically tear into plush toys.

We trim their razor-sharp claws, kiss their little heads and give them names like Buddy, Gizmo and Puddin’ Head.

And yet cats aren’t just murderers, they’re serial killers. They’re the bane of birds, rodents and lizards on six of the seven continents. They’re so ruthlessly efficient at killing, in some countries it’s illegal just to let them outside.

Kitten With A Mouse
A serial killer in training.

Thankfully I haven’t had to deal with my cat bringing me “presents” of dead rodents or lizards. We live in an apartment, Buddy doesn’t want anything to do with the outside unless I’m with him, and if our games are any indication, he’s a hilariously inept hunter who probably couldn’t catch a rodent even if I slow-tossed one to him like a pitcher serving up meatballs in a home run derby.

Yet I’ve heard many stories from friends and acquaintances whose cats are little terrors. Murderous cats are even the subject of this week’s pet advice column on Slate, where a reader complains that her cat proudly presents her with dead mice, frogs and rabbits.

So what sort of powerful magic is at work here? Why do we disregard the murderous side of our little friends? Or is this the work of toxoplasma gondii, that infamous cat-carried parasite that is rumored to take over human brains?

In truth, it’s just who cats are. They’ve been companion animals for so long, it’s easy to forget the reason cats and humans came together in the first place was to kill rodents who were eating their way through stored grain in the very first human agricultural settlements.

So instead of fretting about their murderous ways, maybe we should just be thankful they’re not large enough to eat us too. Isn’t that right, Mr. Fluffy?

Cute Cat Killing Mouse
“What? Am I not cute even whilst committing murder?”
Buddy's claws
“I am NOT an inept hunter! You don’t want to tangle with these talons, bro.”