Most of us are familiar with the savage instincts of our feline friends; some kittens playfully pounce upon balls of wool or fuzzy, rattling toy mice, while human companions of outdoor cats may have been the lucky recipient of a gifted dead bird. But a report from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service has found that those gifts are just the tip of a very large, very murderous iceberg — one which holds the four-legged friends to account for the deaths of over 14 billion animals every year, a staggering amount of carnage that is two-to-four times higher than previously thought.
The study examined the lives of both feral and household pet cats and found that collectively, cats are responsible for the death of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals each year. That makes the innocent-looking domestic cat the single largest human-linked threat to wildlife in America. Unfortunately, the report also found that the animals killed are far more likely to be of the native variety, like voles, birds and chipmunks, than the pest variety like the Norway rat. In fact, the cat is such an efficient killer that more birds and mammals die at the paws of a cat than from cars, poison and collisions with buildings or windmills.
While everyone can agree that it is safer for a cat to be kept indoors, both for wildlife and for the cat, the majority of the killing is performed by feral cats, rather than household variety. Stray and feral cats account for 61 percent of the birds and 89 percent of the mammals killed each year. Finding a humane solution to the homeless cat problem has been a challenge for local animal-control organizations: trap-and-neuter programs have their drawbacks and the number of unwanted cats that are euthanized each year is staggering. The one thing that is certain is that while the cat population continues to grow, the wildlife population will have yet another man-made threat to contend with.