Gallery: Should Cat Ownership Be Legislated To Protect Local Wildlife?


Here’s a controversial issue for all you cat lovers out there. According to a new research paper published by Australian scientists in the Biological Conservation journal, the ownership of cats should be legislated in order to prevent the decline, and possible elimination, of local wildlife.

If you’re wondering how big an impact domestic felines can cause, according to figures by a Forest Service report from 2005, every year in the US approximately 100 million birds are killed by cats. On top of this, a report by the American Bird Conservancy states that cats could also been responsible for the death of “more than a billion small mammals”.

Some have said these figures are inaccurate, and even exaggerated, but a published review by ecologist Elsa Bonnaud at the Mediterranean Institute for Ecology and Palaeoecology in France believes that domestic cats could potentially be responsible for “8% of global bird, mammal and reptile extinctions and pose a significant threat to almost 10% of critically endangered birds, mammals and reptiles.”

Of course, some of this can be attributed to feral cats, as opposed to you well fed moggy, but you get the point.  With up to 100 cats living in a half a square mile of most cities, scientists believe they can cause a major decline in local wildlife. But what could be the solution to this issue?

According to Michael Calver and colleagues at Murdoch University in Western Australia, one solution is to limit the number of cats out there. But don’t worry, Calver and company aren’t proposing a cat cull, but a cat cap that would limit owners to two or fewer cats per household. The team also proposes confining pets and cat curfews, or even complete bans on cat ownership up to one mile of environmentally sensitive areas – such as those that provide habitat to rare prey species.

As you can imagine, this idea has raised a few eyebrows and stirred a few debates, especially on Matt Walker’s BBC’s Wildlife blog.

+ Biological Conservation

via Matt Walker’s BBC’s Wildlife blog

Images © Tomi Tapio and Andrew Currie


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  1. swamp January 31, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Rules calling for the licensing, registration, control, etc. of cats will result in ever more cats being dumped, leading to more and bigger breeding feral colonies, more birds killed. Totally illogical. Someone needs to invent sterility-causing cat food.

  2. KathleenHickman November 4, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Cats, whether pets or feral, are being scapegoated for the decline of species which are impacted far *more* severely by human population and human activity. Regardless of how many birds and small mammals a cat is capable of killing, the ever-expanding human population is killing many, many more through habitat destruction and pollution of the environment. If we want to preserve ANY threatened animal species, we need to take a harder look at how our own activity impacts these species before presuming to subject another animal species to our laws.

  3. LKP November 4, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Research from any bird scientist is extremely biased and highly arguable. If you want birds to be safe, remove electrical wires, raze all high rise buildings, halt all highway construction, eliminate all pesticides and insecticides and preserve all outdoor habitat at any cost to technology.

    Legislation is needed to arrest and fine irresponsible pet owners who abandon their cats when they move out of their apartments or neighborhoods, as well as for those who do not spay or neuter their outdoor cats.

    An interesting bird study was done by the Smithsonian where the observation of baby fledglings occurred in the front yards owned by human cat owners. When “Fritz” got off his private front porch and helped himself, they cited this as evidence that cats are killing birds.

  4. elsabonnaud June 24, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Dear all,

    I’m the first author of the paper cited, Elsa Bonnaud.

    Please, first of all, could you cite the whole sentence without adding any word as you used the “ “.
    “Cats are one of the most widespread invasive predator on islands causing strong negative impacts on native wildlife (Fitzgerald 1988; Macdonald and Thom 2001) and are responsible, at least in part, for 8% of global bird, mammal and reptile extinctions and a significant threat to almost 10% of critically endangered birds, mammals and reptiles (Medina et al. In Review).”

    Second, as you can see with the whole sentence, I wrote that in a context of invasive species on islands, that is to say, animals that were brought by humans and have both a great ability to spread outside their natural home range and have a high detrimental effect on native island species that are often endemics (only present on one island or one archipelago). Thus, i try to struggle against the nature homogenization and global biodiversity lost: to avoid that the next human generations can see only the most common animals and to preserve a good ecosystem functioning that needs a nature with diverse species to account for environmental modifications. That’s my goal and not really to fight against cats, just in places (on islands) where they are not supposed to be because islands species evolved without the presence of predators and thus cannot quickly change their behavior to escape them (several birds on islands lost their ability to flight due to the absence of predators).

    Wish you the best and hope that this explanation will be useful.

  5. judy baymiller May 17, 2011 at 8:51 am

    Absolutely not! No regulation of cats other than what already exists. We have too many regulations already. They keep the rat and mouse population under control. I take mine out on a leash (which she doesn’t like) but it saves my birds and keeps her from being kitty-pizza. She still catches moles and chipmunks on the leash.

  6. caeman May 16, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Wild cats are the problem. How will legislating the contained house cat solve this problem? Dog Laws haven’t stopped feral dogs from existing.

  7. Shaw May 13, 2011 at 4:12 pm


    While I agree that cats are “doing what nature programmed them to do”, I propose that this viewpoint is a little myopic. “Nature” did indeed “program” them to hunt as top-predators (or near-top predators) in specific habitats.

    Australia ain’t one of them.

    Therefore, I would propose that we should let cats do what nature programmed them to do only in those places where cats evolved as a part of that regional nature.

    Removing the context of evolution from your statement is tantamount to saying that we shouldn’t have shepherds protect their sheep from predators, since predators are only doing what they’re programmed to do. Or its like saying that we shouldn’t try an control kudzu in the South, because it’s only doing what it’s programmed to do. Or that we shouldn’t have to worry about Asian carp in the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, because they’re only doing what they’re programmed to do.

    Bottom line: context matters, especially when talking about a creature’s “programmed behavior.”

  8. DurableGood May 13, 2011 at 2:18 am

    In the spirit of Inhabitat’s mission, I’d suggest the bio-simplicity (not to mention the politically palatable approach) of adding a bell to Muffy’s collar. We saw dead native scrub jays when we first moved to the foothills near our local national forest, but after affixing a simple bell to our cat’s collar, found the birds get just enough warning to get away. The mice and rats, not so much. And, by the way, ‘nature’ hasn’t a chance in the face of invasive species.

  9. rick cavaretti May 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    I have to agree with what terry said. Feline domesticus statistically has the highest percent kill rate of any mammalian predator. That’s just what they were built to do. They serve some kind of balance in nature.

  10. thelight May 12, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Sure, why not! They legislate everything else, why not cats?
    Wait, they already issue licenses for them… They’re half way there already!

  11. terryjr91 May 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    I’m not a huge fan of cats, but what they’re saying is that cats are doing what nature programmed them to do, and if we limit the amount people can have, this is suddenly going to stop. I think I got my laugh for the day.

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