The furry feline friends that we keep at home might be one of the biggest threats to wildlife in the US, killing billions of animals every year, a recent study has revealed. The scientists behind the research published in Nature Communications estimate that between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals are killed by cats annually in the United States.
While it is common knowledge that stray and feral cats can cause havoc in the environment, the study also showed that even pet cats can contribute to the death toll. Owners should take more responsibility and do their part to reduce their pets’ impact, the scientists added.
The study found that cats killed more animals in the US than road accidents, building collisions or poisonings. This killer instinct of domestic cats is well-documented on many islands around the world, where feline companions have gone on to prey on the local wildlife, leading to the extinction of 33 species.
The impact of cats on mainland areas has been harder to chart, but the new study has revealed that cats’ predatory prowess is higher than previously estimated. The researchers found that cats killed more than four times as many birds as previous studies had suggested. Native birds, such as the American Robin, were the most at risk, while mammals like mice, shrews, voles, squirrels, and rabbits were the most likely to be killed.
The researchers from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service urged cat owners to take action to limit their pets’ impact. “We hope that the large amount of wildlife mortality indicated by our research convinces some cat owners to keep their cats indoors and that it alerts policymakers, wildlife managers, and scientists to the large magnitude of wildlife mortality caused by cat predation,” said Dr Pete Marra from the SCBI.
The animal welfare charity, the RSPCA, also suggested that a properly fitted collar and bell could reduce a cat’s hunting success by at least a third. It is high time for cat owners to acknowledge the impact their pets have on wildlife and take steps to protect the environment.