If it were up to the cat, it would eat whatever it could catch. This is demonstrated by a new study on the impact of cats on biodiversity in the trade journal Nature Communications. “Without cats, bird populations will rebound,” says biologist and exotic species expert Tim Adrians (INBO).
What exactly did this study do, and what did we learn?
Adrians: “The researchers pooled all the research on predation by cats since 1900 in a so-called meta-analysis, to gain insight into the animals they hunt. This shows that cats are not selective at all: the researchers identified more than two thousand species across the world.” The world preys on cats, especially birds and mammals, but also reptiles and amphibians. This includes 347 species that are on the Red List and therefore threatened to a greater or lesser degree. These are shocking numbers.
“An important note is that the study focuses on feral cats. They generally live more in rural areas, where the diversity of potential prey is higher than in more urbanized areas, where the average domestic cat goes hunting.”
How harmful is cat predation?
“The problem is greater on islands, where vulnerable species often live that are only found there and are not common among cats. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), cats have played a role in 14% of species disappearances from islands.
“On the mainland, it is difficult to estimate this effect. A lot depends on the size of the prey population affected, and to what extent it is already under pressure. I am thinking, for example, of the hazel dormouse, of which there is only one population in our country. If some cats cause “Making an ugly mess there, it means you have a problem.”
What do we know about the effect of cats on our nature?
“We have not investigated this properly. There are approximately one million domestic cats and an unknown number of feral cats in Flanders. They will hunt a large but specifically unknown number of predatory animals every year. For most species the impact on the population may be limited.
“The biggest problem is the deterrent effect. The massive presence of cats creates a so-called ‘landscape of fear’ where animals do not feel safe. However, many species have to survive in stripped natural areas with little suitable habitat. I am convinced that Without cats, we will see a rebound in bird numbers.”
Aren’t there other predators in nature?
“Wild cats occur naturally in our country, but in much smaller numbers than domestic cats. Other predators such as foxes or mustards also exist in smaller numbers and hunt in a different way. As a result, the species is relatively unadapted to being hunted by cats.
What can cat owners do to reduce the carnage caused by their minnows?
“An Italian study asked cat owners to keep track of what their cat brought home. This showed that the bell on the cat’s collar was ineffective; cats with a bell did not catch less prey than cats without a bell. Other studies show the effect of the bell. But it is better to keep the cat Inside the house as much as possible, especially at night. Design your garden in an environmentally friendly way, so that wild animals have more hiding places and escape options.
“In Flanders, it is also necessary to sterilize cats before the age of five months and only recognized amateur breeders are allowed to keep cats. This is a good and unique policy. Stick to this so that the number of stray cats does not increase further.”
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