Let’s start from the beginning. Modern house cats are descendants of the African wildcat (Felis lybica), which began their domestication process around 10,000 years ago in the Middle East. Both Egyptians and Europeans soon got ahold of these incredible pets and there’ve even been archeological findings of them being buried next to their owners. As humanity expanded, cats did too. A brand new species – Felis catus, soon became cosmopolitan. Practically every corner of the globe became part of its range, including recently-discovered islands which had previously spent millennia in ecological isolation.
As for 2021 and the huge problem cats are in the centre of, I’ll be as brief as possible.
There are between 200 to 600+ million cats on earth. How many native birds, mammals, and reptiles will each one kill?
Cats are extremely efficient predators. They’re proportionally more agile and versatile than lions, and even when they’re extremely well-fed, they’ll hunt out of pure instinct. Since they’re a domestic species which we recently created, they don’t belong in any ecosystem. When an ocelot or a lynx hunts a bird, we’re speaking of a completely natural and ecologically healthy occurrence. The two species have evolved together in the same habitat for millions of years, and they’ve adapted to reproduce in numbers that will keep each other balanced. That is to say, a bird will lay a certain amount of eggs so that the relatively small number of ocelots in the forest will be low enough to allow it to be replaced by at least one surviving chick. Now imagine if you multiplied the number of ocelots times 500 and you can imagine how devastating their presence is for native wildlife.
Six endemic bird species in New Zealand have gone extinct because of their impact.
In the United States alone, cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds and 22.3 billions mammals per year. Measuring the damage to reptile and amphibian populations is hard to achieve, but even harder to think about. In China, the figures are up to 5 billion invertebrates, 3.5 billion fishes, 3.8 billion amphibians, 4.3 billion reptiles, 5.5 billion birds, and 9.8 billion mammals a year, according to a recent estimate. Six endemic bird species in New Zealand have gone extinct because of their impact.
It’s possible that worldwide, every year we lose 200 trillion individual native animals to those fluffy and deadly paws.
Australia is a case study for this subject. Their invasive feral cats have been responsible for the extinction of at least 20 mammal species. Each of these several million critters hunt several mammals per night. For a country like Australia, solving such an issue isn’t a walk in the park. An unfortunate last resort is being taken and proving itself effective: the rifle. Shooting feral cats is something nobody wants to do, much less to have to do. If it’s not too late in the rest of the world, what can we do to avoid an ecological emergency which would require bullets? Well, the answer’s quite simple.
Do not let your cats outside, ever. Keep them indoors. Even if they’re not hungry, their instinct will cause them to hunt whatever they can, anytime they can. Also, since cats reproduce quickly and population growth is exponential, a single pair can leave over ten million descendants in less than ten years, so keep them neutered.
As always, most problems could be easily solved if not for humans’ affinity towards bad ideas. Very large groups of people with an irrational love for cats (to the point where their decisions go directly against cats’ wellbeing) have claimed all sorts of made-up fallacies on the topic. They’ll say, “It’s their instinct to hunt” as if that isn’t the point. They’ll say, “It’s a natural process, they’re part of the food chain” when as I’ve mentioned before, it’s neither natural nor part of the food chain. They’ll proudly boast about their beautiful pets bringing them dead lizards, snakes, squirrels, and birds, as if it weren’t sickening. When things such as little bells for cat collars meant to alert birds of their presence are proposed, they’ll falsely claim it’s harmful to their ears. They’ll also pronounce actually accurate statements, such as “We’re the true pest and the reason behind this problem in the first place” but completely off in terms of context and purpose, as if the fact that we caused this didn’t mean we’re the ones who should fix it.
We love cats. We all do. And what’s best for them is to guarantee that the only ones in the next generation are those living happily and well-fed, free of parasites and the threat of being run over or poisoned, on the inside of a house. That way, we can also help many a nest of chicks have their mother return to feed them.
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