Are cats really that dangerous to wildlife?

Are cats really that dangerous to wildlife?

A recent study conducted in Australia dismisses the cliché and highlights that there are other risk factors for birds or other animals

Photo by Pacto Visual on Unsplash Cats are often considered the number one enemy of wildlife. while much less is known about the impact of dogs. The concern of some Australian conservationists is that companion animals may prey on native fauna, especially mammals and birds, and lead some species to extinction. At the moment there are heavy restrictions on domestic cats (associated with campaigns to kill feral cats), while for dogs there are only prescriptions to go on a leash in some areas and stay inside the property's gardens. This difference has not so far been supported by scientific studies.

A new study published in Frontiers Veterinary Science conducted by a team of Australian researchers finally clarifies the relative impact of cats and dogs on local urban fauna. The study uses the citizen science approach, through online questionnaires that asked owners to report and identify any prey of their animals.

The results of the study are very interesting: in both cases most of the prey were mammals and, of these, those preyed upon by dogs and cats, 88% and 97% of the cases respectively, were mice, rats and rabbits, all species recently introduced to Australia and considered harmful. But dogs were much more prone than felines to prey on native species, 62% versus 47%. Of these, the most preyed species were skinks and lizards, but dogs were more prone to preying on larger animals such as possums, kangaroos and wallabies, while most of the preyed birds were either introduced or very abundant: 18% of the birds preyed on from dogs and 14% of those preyed upon by cats were indigenous, but no prey bird population, according to the questionnaire, is declining.

These results disagree with several previous studies reporting a negative effect of domestic cats on native populations of birds and mammals. However, the authors note, “many studies are based only on mathematical models and do not evaluate actual population densities. For example, a recent systematic review reports that cats in the United States kill billions of birds and mammals every year ”. According to the authors, these numbers are overestimated as extrapolations from other studies that used wrong assumptions, for example they did not take into account the short time that the average American cat spends outside the home, or they overestimate the number of cats compared to the actual numbers provided by the association of cats. American veterinarians.

A New Zealand study, the authors continue, “estimates the birds preyed upon by cats in an urban area implausibly, given that the number of birds preyed upon by cats in 12 months is close to or greater than total number of birds present ". Another study conducted in the metropolitan area of ​​Perth (Western Australia), the Australian researchers report, finds no correlation between the density of dogs and cats and the abundance of passerines, but finds a negative correlation between the density of birds and development construction, which leads the authors to conclude that the critical factor is habitat destruction, rather than the presence of cats and dogs. Finally, according to the study, the positive effects of predation by dogs and cats are not taken into account, such as the recent invasion of rats and mice in Australia after the culling campaigns would suggest.

The critical factor, The study concludes, it's not how many animals are preyed upon each year, but the overall impact of cats and dogs on wild animal populations. Predation by cats and dogs appears to be of lesser importance than other problems such as habitat loss and urban development. Effective conservation efforts should be aimed at based on scientific studies, rather than blaming a single species without experimental evidence.

* The author of the article was a peer reviewer of the research mentioned

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