Without Cats, Birds Would Suffer So Would We

Without Cats, Birds Would Suffer So Would We

What would happen if all the world’s cats vanished? That’s the question posed by Natalie Wolchover on the Mother Nature Network.  And it’s a particularly relevant question since several ‘bird groups’ have recently and repeatedly pursued lots of press alleging that innocent wildlife is being exterminated by community cats. The allegation is that songbirds are at risk, many are endangered and may perish as a result of cats. This isn’t only an issue in America.

Earlier this year, a New Zealand environmentalist wanted to actually ban future cat ownership. His idea didn’t get very far, but it received international coverage and is illustrative of anti cat sentiment.

Some one must love cats, at least in America, cats are the most popular pet, outnumbering dogs. There are about 74 million pet cats in America, and about 70 million dogs. In truth, cats are man’s best friends.

I think Wolchover’s scenario is fascinating, What would life be like if at least some ardent “cat haters” did get their way, and poof – tomorrow – all the cats are gone?

Wolchover notes that the rodent population would soar, and right she is. She points out a 1997 study in Great Britain found that the average house cat brought home more than 11 dead animals (including mice, birds, frogs and more) in the course of six months. That meant the nine million cats of Britain were collectively killing close to 200 million critters a year — not including all those they did not offer up to their owners. A study in New Zealand in 1979 found that, when cats were nearly eradicated from a small island, the local rat population quickly quadrupled. And these are only two of dozens of studies which note that cats do keep vermin numbers in check. And it’s always been this way.

Going back in time, way back to the Dark Ages, cats were originally blamed for the Great Plague. So, cats (associated with witchcraft back then) were killed off. As a result rats further proliferated, rampant illness became worse and transformed to the Great Plague. It was fleas carried by rats that spread the plague. Restoring cat population did more to diminish deaths as a result of the plague than anything else medicine back then attempted.

Fast forward the clock to today – and talk off-the-record to animal control officials in big cities where budgets for rat abatement have been cut. They’ll tell you that without community cats, rats would be even more numerous. While the Great Plague isn’t likely to reoccur today, rats today do carry disease no different than in the Dark Ages.

Tree House Humane Society in Chicago works with grateful city officials, community leaders and others to eradicate vermin with community cats. The cats are spay/neutered and vaccinated for rabies – but these colonies are actually big city working cats. The model began thousands of years ago, as cats were first domesticated by simply hanging out where there was grain to keep vermin away. Later barn cats appeared, and still do “work” their magic around the world. Today in Chicago, Tree House controlled cat colonies keep vermin away from factories or other places otherwise previously rodent-ridden.

Of course, cats do kill birds. However, if there were no cats – the truth is that many bird species status would change to endangered, or even disappear all together.

It is true that flightless birds and ground nesting birds are especially prone to feline attacks. This is a particular issue in New Zealand, for instance, where so many species are flightless. However, cats or no cats – the most significant threat to birds are habitat loss and pollution (air pollution, light pollution and water pollution).

If cats vanished, some bird population numbers would actually take a nosedive – which is the opposite of what you may think at first, or what bird supporters suggest. Rats and other vermin love to eat bird eggs and baby birds. Ground nesting and flightless birds would have no defense against what would then be an out-of-control rodent population.

The bottom line is that cats are an easy target. And as “anti cat” squawking has flourished in social media, cats as scapegoats has become an unfortunate fundraising tool for bird groups.

Meanwhile, aside from unveiling exploitative misinformation (sometimes disguised as “science”), bird groups do nothing in the real world to help diminish feral cat numbers, such as participate and support trap, neuter, return (TNR).  You’d figure if they really wanted to work for cat numbers to decline, they would begin by targeting the few places where cats really are a threat – such as a cat colony near shorebird populations. And they would then help to relocate these cats.

However, I’ve left out the most significant problem which would result from a theoretical world without cats. No purring.

For many a world without a purr is like a world without the sky or the moon. I’m not referring to your “crazy cat ladies.” In the U.S. alone, about a third of all households live with at least one cat, and typically several cats. No one forces people to share their lives and their homes with felines – we do this because it feels good. And in fact, science now confirms that cats are actually healthful.

For senior citizens, in particular (though not exclusively seniors), their cat may be their only nearby family. Of course, it’s not the same as having the grandkids or friends over for a visit – but it’s something. And the human/animal bond can be remarkably powerful. There’s little question that, for some, caring for another being actually ‘keeps them going,’ offering a reason to get up in the morning.

It’s challenge for just about anyone is to look at a little kitten, and not smile. For millions of people, cats touch our hearts.


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  • fb_avatar

    I love cats and think that the world would be empty without them to love and they love us

  • In reply to Crystal Rousseau:

    YES!!! Hallelujah

  • In addition to above caught frogs, rodents, etc, my cat brings home large moths and snakes.

  • In reply to Nurse Ruby:

    Science also shows certain cats have certain preferences - and it also depends on what's available - so it seems some cats prefer frogs but others snakes...etc. Some rarely,if ever, actually take birds.

  • I would kill a human before I would a cat. Why? Let me re-phrase that. I would kill a low balling money loving greedy business man before I would an innocent cat. Point being that government, business, and politics are all one in the same. You can't trust ANY entity that is associated with money. Pet food corporations help spread lies about nature to promote their man-made poisons.

    Cats were put here to eat birds. And birds are plentiful, even after thousands of years. its all part of the eco system and should NOT be tampered with. All 8 of my cats had problems with man-made cat foods. That is, until I began giving them birds, rabbits, and rodents. All their problems went away. And so did the food bill. You can't trust any business. That includes the media.

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    Domestic dogs are a bigger problem than cats for our native wildlife

    Dogs only behind motor vehicles as cause of wildlife injuries and deaths.

    A recent study by a University of Tasmania Masters student has found that dogs may be a more serious problem than cats for native wildlife in some circumstances.

    Mr Holderness-Roddam’s Master’s thesis analysed the records of native wildlife presenting for care through veterinary practices and the Resource Management and Conservation Division of the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) for cause of death and injury.

    “The results were quite clear cut”, said Mr Holderness-Roddam. “Whilst the overwhelming number of wildlife injuries and deaths were attributed to motor vehicles (1,256), the next highest cause of injuries and death was recorded for dogs (238), with cats at 152.”

    A second set of records, provided by the Australian Wildlife Health Centre - Wildlife Hospital at Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria supported the Tasmanian findings. In that case dogs were reported as being responsible for 115 attacks on native wildlife and cats 79 attacks.

    The types of areas where native wildlife is most likely to be at risk from domestic dogs are the urban and suburban bushland reserves, such as the Poimena Reserve in Austins Ferry and beaches when shorebirds are breeding or preparing for migration.

    “Unfortunately many dog owners ignore the requirement to keep their dogs on leash. I frequently see dogs such as Jack Russell terriers being allowed to hunt through the bush by thoughtless owners.”

    “The land managers for these areas, particularly local councils, need to take a stronger line with dog owners who choose to ignore the leash requirements. They also need to install more informative signs and provide fenced dog exercise areas with doggy gym equipment, water and poo bags”, said Mr Holderness-Roddam.

    A full copy of the thesis is available at: http://eprints.utas.edu.au/12310/

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