Killer Kitties?

January 31, 2013 | Greg Dodge

That’s not my title. It’s the title, or at least part of the title, of an NPR interview on All Things Considered.

I happened to be listening to NPR on the radio on the drive home the other day. An animal ecologist, Pete Marra, from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute was being interviewed about a study he and colleagues of his had recently conducted. The study was focused on determining how many animals are killed in the states each year by us, meaning humans, through our activities such as car strikes, building strikes, pesticides, wind turbines…and pets.

Concerning pets, the study found that there are as many as 47 million pet cats out hunting other animals. Of what Mara calls “un-owned” cats, which includes feral, barn, and stray cats, he says there are between 30 to 80 million. I’m not sure if that means that there are 47 million pet cats plus the 30 – 80 million “un-owned cats” hunting outside of peoples’ homes, or some other combination of those numbers, but regardless, it’s a big number.

A feral cat peacefully grooms itself.

Further along in the story Mara indicates that according to the numbers at which their study arrived, cats kill somewhere between 1.4 and 3.7 billion, that’s BILLION, birds a year, and, check this, 15 billion mammals per year.

Mara also says that the study indicates that “the number of birds and small animals being killed are high enough that cats and their hunting could be causing some wildlife populations to decline in some areas.”

Every so often the subject of feral cats surfaces here at the Museum, usually because the staff begins seeing them with some frequency. The subject came up recently and I thought it an interesting coincidence that Mara’s study happened to be published and reported on at this time.

Killer, Cute Huggable Pussy Cat, or…?

By the way, previous studies have stated that only about 500,000,000 (half a billion) birds are killed by cats each year, which is still a bunch of birds. However, Mara says that he and his colleagues are confident with the conclusions that they’ve come to, adding, “we tried to be as conservative as possible.”

But don’t take my word for it, read the NPR story yourself:

http://www.npr.org/2013/01/29/170588511/killer-kitties-cats-kill-billions-every-year

And here’s the actual article from the journal Nature Communications:

http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v4/n1/full/ncomms2380.html

Interestingly, Diane Sawyer closed her ABC World News broadcast last night with the same story. They didn’t mentioned the authors, where the study came from, and the numbers given were slightly different (averages) but I’m sure it’s the same study. They treated the story in a light-hearted manner, something along these lines, “Is your cat a serial killer?” but the issue is a very serious one to many folks. It’s a polarizing issue and emotions run high on this one.

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