By BEN R. WILLIAMS
I realize that these are fraught times and that tensions are running high, yet this week, I feel compelled to write my most controversial column yet. I have little doubt that this column will garner hate mail, perhaps even death threats. But sometimes, a person just believes in something so strongly that they have no choice but to shout their message from the rooftops.
You guessed it: this week’s column is about cats.
Yes, cats. Perhaps best known as the subjects of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s unwatchable 1981 musical and its criminal 2019 film adaptation, cats are small furry mammals that can be found throughout the world. You might even have a cat in your home right now, quietly judging you.
I’d like to preface this column by saying that I have no beef with cats. Even though being in close proximity to a cat causes my nose to run and my eyeballs to catch fire, I enjoy cats from a respectable distance.
However, as someone who enjoys all kinds of wildlife, I’m sorry to report that cats are pretty much the worst thing to happen to the natural world since humans.
To be clear, this column doesn’t apply to indoor cats that have been spayed and neutered. Those guys are cool. However, if you happen to be an outdoor cat, whether domesticated, feral, or stray, then my accusatory finger is pointed squarely at your fuzzy little face.
Of course, the problem isn’t the fault of the cats. It’s our problem. Cats are just doing what they were born to do. They are predators at heart, and just like many predators, they frequently engage in a behavior known as “surplus killing,” which is when a predator kills more prey than it can eat and either stores or abandons the remainder. This is a decent evolutionary adaptation if you’re a polar bear or something; if you have a big bowl of Fancy Feast waiting back home, it’s just unfortunate.
But wait, you say! So what if Mr. Cuddles leaves a bird on the front porch every couple of months? It’s kind of cute!
Unfortunately, Mr. Cuddles’ quarterly dead bird is just a fraction of what the little guy is killing out there, and when his efforts are combined with those of the hundreds of millions of other cats around the world, it adds up to a staggeringly huge impact.
According to a 2013 study by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cats, both owned and wild, are responsible for killing as many as 3.7 billion birds per year and as many as 20.7 billion mammals per year. And that’s just in the U.S.!
How big of an impact is that? According to Dr. Peter Marra, one of the co-authors of the study, it’s estimated that there are between 15 and 20 billion adult birds in the U.S. Even if the study was off by half and cats only kill 2 billion birds per year, that’s at least one in ten adult birds killed by cats annually. For all the fuss made over wind turbines, those only kill about 234,000 birds per year; certainly not a cause for celebration, but a drop in the bucket compared to the damage caused by cats.
The impact on mammals is just as severe. In Australia, at least 20 native mammals have been driven to extinction by cats, and more than a hundred are at risk of extinction. At least 33 different species found only on islands have been hunted to extinction by cats.
But wait, you say! That’s all well and good, but if it weren’t for my barn cats, my barn would be overrun by mice and rats!
While cats are widely believed to be efficient hunters of mice and rats, there isn’t much scientific evidence for the claim. In fact, cats very seldom kill rats at all because they’re too large and intimidating. They much prefer hunting small defenseless prey like birds and lizards, and if they happen to kill a mouse along the way, it’s largely incidental.
I realize this is pretty upsetting news for all the cat lovers out there. However, the solution is quite simple: just keep your cats indoors and make sure to get them spayed and neutered. The cats may not like it, but the birds will thank you.