Many people love housecats. They have been a hit with their human friends since the days of ancient Egypt. Today they are Youtube sensations and staples of popular culture from Tom and Jerry and Sylvester to Catbert and Simon’s Cat and the latest OwlKitty.
But the very reason they are popular is also the very reason several countries -including Australia and Poland – are trying to regulate their behavior. If not eliminate feral cats altogether.
The theory is that when humans began to farm grain about 10,000 years ago, the relationship with cats was born. African wildcats began to hunt around the granaries for the rats and mice that were spoiling the food. That endeared them to humans who domesticated them. Humans took them nearly everywhere, and therein lies the problem.
For domesticated housecats are superb hunters. They will stalk, kill and eat an estimated 1,000 prey species ranging from a large number of insects up to prey at least as large as a rabbit. There are reports of them showing predatory interest in animals as big as deer. Though deer are too large they can dream and their slightly larger cousins such as bobcats do sometimes kill adult deer though rarely.
People frequently abandon them and they are hardy. They quickly revert to a wild state and wreak havoc. They are particularly hard on birds and many small mammals. some of which are flightless or otherwise easy prey. Cats are also very fertile. Females mature quickly and can bear several litters a year with numerous kittens in each littler.
That is why the Polish Academy of Sciences recently declared them an “Invasive Alien Species.” The Academy acted in part because of the impact in Poland of housecats on birds. The use of the word alien apparently turned some people off but it is accurate as the animal was domesticated in the Middle East and is not native to Poland.
The academy estimates 140 million birds are killed in Poland each year by foraging housecats. The number may seem shockingly high but a number of studies on wandering housecats show that they do kill large numbers of other animals.
Cat lovers attacked the decision. Some media outlets wrongly suggested the academy was seeking to eliminate cats. The official position is simply a request that cat owners limit feline roaming.
Requests to limit roaming are echoed by many mainstream veterinary groups and other stakeholders. Estimates of the total number of birds and mammals killed by wandering cats run into the billions.
But it is not enough for Australia. An estimated five million feral cats roam the island. They are wreaking havoc on native wildlife. Much of that wildlife has not had to face predators before and is easy pickings. So Australia is seeking to eliminate the problem, perhaps by genetic means.
The advice from the experts remains the same. Spay or neuter your cats and don’t let them roam. If you can’t keep them find a rescue group or a shelter. Feeding wandering cats is strongly discouraged. Volunteer or assist cat rescue groups seeking to find appropriate homes.