This epistle is the result of friends' and my personal experiences with observing—often helplessly—domestic and feral cats killing wildlife, sometimes for food, but more often because they are programmed to do so.
A genetic study in 2007 concluded that domestic cats are descended from African wildcats, Felix silvestris lybica, which hunted small birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects for food and pleasure—and their domestic kin are still doing that today. The first recorded domestic cats were cult animals in ancient Egypt, thought to have been domesticated 9,500 years ago in Neolithic times, and they are still cult animals in the U.S. today.
That opens the door to what is causing serious problems for wildlife and man in this part of the Earth today: cats killing native wildlife, and cat-owners who will not accept responsibility for their pet's actions. World conservation organizations address the wanton killing by domestic and feral cats in many, many citations on any conservation website you may turn to—the domestic cat is a significant predator of small mammals and birds.
United Kingdom assessments indicate that cats may be accountable for an estimated 64.8 million bird deaths each year. Certain species appear more susceptible than others; for example, 30 percent of house sparrow (and finches) mortality is linked to the domestic cat. In the recovery of rare and endangered species, it was also concluded that 31 percent of deaths were a result of cat predation.
The American Bird Conservancy has accumulated data regarding the impact of cats on wildlife that cannot be refuted: "Some free-roaming domestic cats kill more than 100 animals each year. One well-fed cat that roamed a wildlife experiment station was recorded to have killed more than 1,600 animals (mostly small mammals) over 18 months. Birds that nest or feed on the ground, such as California Quail, are the most susceptible to cat predation, as are nestlings and fledglings of many other bird species."
According to national humans society studies, there are more than 77 million pet cats in the United States; while a 1997 nationwide poll showed that only 35 percent are kept exclusively indoors, leaving the majority of owned cats free to kill birds and other wildlife at least some of the time. (Using that data, it means that around 787 million small mammals alone are killed by cats in the US annually in our cities, suburbs, farmlands and natural areas). While the trap, neuter and release projects only add more numbers of dead wildlife to the total.
Extensive studies of the feeding habits of free-roaming domestic cats have been conducted over the last 55 years in Europe, North America, Australia, Africa, and on many islands. These studies show that the number and types of animals killed by cats varies greatly, depending on the individual cats, the time of year, and availability of prey. Roughly 60 percent to 70 percent of the wildlife cats kill are small mammals; 20 percent to 30 percent are birds; and up to 10 are amphibians, fish, reptiles, and insects.
Oregon State law protects the Yellow-pine Chipmunk, Neotamias amoenus, which are killed by outdoor and feral cats. Most birds are also protected by state and federal laws; the exception being the English Sparrow, European Starling and Asian (Collared) Dove.
Addressing these laws as related to death-by-cat, then makes cat-owners who allow and encourage their cats to go outdoors (and kill protected wildlife) guilty of violating state and federal laws. But even more importantly, owners are guilty of allowing their cats to destroy vital components of Oregon's complex ecosystems, a process that will, in time, throw a monkey wrench into all that holds everything together in our wildlife communities.
Last night, I interrupted my neighbor's cat from killing a native Eastern Cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus, in my front yard. But, time after time I observed it running off with lizards, chipmunks, juncos and finches from my bird feeder and can do nothing about it. Even though the cat deposits its prize on my neighbor's porch—which in cat language is saying, "hey, owner, come out and join me! this is fun!" the cats continue roaming free.
I have a good friend in Sisters who loves her cat to be outside, but knows what instinct drives them into doing, so (at her request) I helped her build a, "catio," an enclosed back porch that allows her cats to be "outside," yet separates her cats from the prey they kill for food and pleasure, and at the same time protects the cats from the wildlife that would eat them.
I also helped a man save some bats that got into his home though a builder's mistake, and while doing so noticed the man had three beautiful cats. I asked him if he allowed his cats outdoors, and his answer was an alarming, "Oh, no! I never allow my cats to go outside! I love then too much to expose them to bobcats and coyotes."
In closing, may I suggest to our County Commissioners, to begin a solution to outdoor and feral cats killing wildlife. This particular statue has been put into motion by several counties in our neighboring state to the north.
To wit: Statute: Cat license—Requirement.
All cats over eight-weeks of age harbored, kept or maintained within the county shall be registered with the animal protection and control program and shall wear a current license tag issued by the program at all times; provided, however, that a license issued by an incorporated city within the county shall be valid under the provisions of this chapter for a period no greater than one year from its date of issuance; and provided further, that cats while kept at kennels, pet shops and animal shelters, or the facilities licensed pursuant to this chapter shall be exempt from the provisions of this section.
Cat licenses shall be valid for twelve months from the date of issuance. Application for cat license issuance or renewal shall be made within a timely manner as listed below:
(1) In the case of a newly acquired cat, the application shall be made within thirty days of such acquisition;
(2) In the case of a newly adult cat, the application shall be made within thirty days of the time the cat becomes six months of age, or acquires a permanent set of canine teeth; and
(3) In the case of a new resident to the county with an adult cat unlicensed by animal protection and control, the application shall be made within thirty days of establishing residency.
(4) Any cat observed harassing native wildlife shall be captured and returned to the owner who must pay restitution for allowing a registered cat to roam free. Unregistered cats will be euthanized.
Note: Next column we'll explore cat-borne Taxoplasma gondii, a disease that causes memory loss in infected senior citizens, and serious complications for unborn infants.