Wildlife Conservation photo

It’s no secret that free-roaming cats are a problem in this country. As both an avid birder and bird hunter, it’s a topic of particular concern to me, as I live in a rural area and must contend with feral cats on a near-continuous basis. Last year I blogged about a study that showed what efficient killers domestic housecats are; how housecats and feral cats do a number on gamebirds; and the numerous studies that show the tremendous toll cats take on wildlife. But the results of a just-released three-year study conducted by Smithsonian and the US Fish & Wildlife Service make it clear that the problem is even larger than previously thought.

From this story in USA Today:
Cats that live in the wild or indoor pets allowed to roam outdoors kill from 1.4 billion to as many as 3.7 billion birds in the continental U.S. each year, says a new study that escalates a decades-old debate over the feline threat to native animals. The estimates are much higher than the hundreds of millions of annual bird deaths previously attributed to cats. The study also says that from 6.9 billion to as many as 20.7 billion mammals — mainly mice, shrews, rabbits and voles — are killed by cats annually in the contiguous 48 states. The report is scheduled to be published Tuesday in Nature Communications. “I was stunned,” said ornithologist Peter Marra of the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute. He and Smithsonian colleague Scott Loss, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Tom Will conducted the study.

Yes, that’s right. Billions. According to the story, the study reveals that free-ranging cats are likely the single greatest source of mortality for birds and mammals in the United States. The study is also critical of one of the more ridiculous schemes to deal with feral cats; the so-called “TNR” programs (for Trap-Nueter-Release) that feral cat advocacy groups love, calling them “potentially harmful to wildlife populations” because such programs simply return feral cats to the wild to continue killing wildlife.

The study also tried to put a number to just how many unowned cats there are in the U.S., with the estimate being anywhere from 30 to upwards of 80 million cats. Of course, cat lovers have been pushing back against the study, saying the felines are just convenient scapegoats for habitat loss, window and vehicle collisions, and other man-made hazards. I’d argue that feral cats ARE a man-made hazard, one that something should be done about.

There’s now an admittedly Quixote-like push to eventually get rid of cats in New Zealand in order to save that nation’s endangered biodiversity and I’d love to see something similar happen in this country, if for nothing else than to raise awareness of the issue. Very few people tolerate dogs running wild, so why do so many in this country think it’s OK to let cats do the same? Agree or disagree?