In defence of cats

The feline haters are getting organised: they now have an article in Nature Communications (registered media only) arguing that cats are merciless killers and should be put on a leash:

Cats are one of the top threats to US wildlife, killing billions of animals each year, a study suggests. The authors estimate they are responsible for the deaths of between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals annually.
Well, heck, let's not do any maths on this, Rebecca Morelle from the BBC. Let's just quote the press release verbatim. Heaven forfend that we actually perform any journalism.

Being less lazy than Ms. Morelle, let us assume we have one domestic cat to every household in the USA; it's not going to be exact, but the right ballpark as many cat owners have multiple cats. That's about 100 million cats, and a buttload of wrecked next-door gardens. If they averaged 1 victim a day, that's 36 billion victims. The authors therefore are complaining about cats killing at a rate of 0.1 birds per day and, say, 0.6 mammals per day. I mean, this is not extravagant - you're talking a bird every couple of weeks. Frankly, I don't think most of these cats are trying. A cat who previously owned me used to waste 2-3 mammals and 1 bird per day, and those were only the ones whose remnants I found.

I should confess an interest at this point - I am a cat person (I wash in my own saliva) and can't stand the eager-to-please dependency of dogs. I actually appreciate cats' inclination to hunt and kill mice and rats. For that, I'm fine with them taking the occasional bird or rabbit. While we're here, I'm doubtful about the cats blamed for squirrel deaths - squirrels are nimble, wary and vicious little bastards, and it would have to be a pretty hard cat to kill squirrels successfully in any great numbers. Birds have a massive advantage over cats in being able to fly - although I'm sure the cats are working on that deficiency - and so many birds caught by cats were stupid to descend to the cat's level and likely had it coming.

To give you an idea of the angle of the article, author Pete Marra appears to work in the Migratory Bird Center of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. I'm guessing he quite likes birds. But, Pete, how many birds are there in the USA? Best guess is 10-20 billion. Life expectancy of songbirds in the USA is under a year so cats are by no means the primary killer of birds - maybe 20% of bird fatalities are due to cats. Presumably many of these are the incautious or stupid ones. We should also note how sparsely populated the USA is; there are vast swathes of land that have very few humans and even fewer cats, but plenty of birds. There's no danger of birds going extinct through cat predation.

So, Dr. Marra, where now?

Dr Marra said: "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."
I wouldn't be surprised if this chap was a vegan, judging by the self-righteous aversion to creature mortality he displays. But no, Dr. Marra, we will not be putting bells on our cats. We will not be locking our cats in the house. We will let our cats do what they will, controlling pests and culling the weak and sick from the bird population.

And when the collapse of civilisation comes, as it surely must, Dr. Marra's most likely fate is to disappear under a pack of hungry cats intent on chewing his face off. No more than he deserves.

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