According to a highly controversial US conservationist, 'cats should be kept off the street' due to the danger they pose to wildlife.
Dr Peter Marra, head of Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at Washington DC's National Zoo, has spoken out to suggest that free-roaming cats could be responsible for killing billions of birds worldwide and that pet cats should be kept indoors or on a leash, and that stray cats which can't be rehomed should be euthanised.
According to Dr Marra, who is also the author of Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, cats are responsible for killing off 63 species of mammals, birds and reptiles in the US.
Thankfully there are many rational experts who can counter those arguements. Dr John Bradshaw, an Anthrozoologist at the University of Bristol said that cats are not serious predators and target creatures that are already weak and dying. Dr Bradshaw said, 'The way that birds breed, small birds anyway, is that 80% of them have to die every year or we will be knee deep in them. It's just the way they are. Billions of birds die every year. Most of the birds that cats kill and bring home are seriously ill - they are very underweight and probably not going to survive very much longer anyway.'
Jeff Knott, Head of Nature Policy at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), was also able to provide some level-headed persepective. Speaking earlier on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme he said that although an estimated 55 million birds are killed by cats every year in the UK, this is not necessarily a conservation issue. 'Birds in gardens produce large numbers of chicks every year in the full knowledge that most of them won't survive – they are essentiall playing the lottery and buying more tickets to make sure that they can get one or two to survive to the next year and that means that they are quite able to withstand these high levels of predation.'
Hunting is undoubtedly a natural behaviour for cats, however there are ways in which you can limit the impact your cat may have on the wildlife in your garden, which is covered in our guide on how to stop your cat from hunting. This includes:
- keeping cats in at dawn and dusk when small creature are most active
- positioning bird feeders and bird tables away from covered areas where your cat could hide and making sure feeders are difficult to climb or access
- fitting your cat with a collar with a bell (especially in younger cats) – although the correct choice of collar is essential for the safety of your cat