Majority of cat owners don’t agree that cats are harmful to wildlife

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Majority of cat owners, though broadly aware of their cats’ predatory activities, are in denial over the fact that cats are harmful to wildlife, a new study has revealed. The study also suggests that majority of cat owners are against the suggestions that their cats should be kept inside as a control measure to reduce the impact on wildlife.

For the study published in Ecology and Evolution, researchers studied cats from two UK villages, Mawnan Smith in Cornwall and Thornhill near Stirling. They found that although cat owners were broadly aware of whether their cat was predatory or not, those with a predatory cat had little idea of how many prey items it typically caught.

A total of 58 households, with 86 cats, took part in the study. Owners’ views regarding their cats’ predatory behaviour was assessed by comparing predictions of the number of prey their cat returns with the actual numbers bought home. A questionnaire was given to 45 owners at Mawnan Smith to determine whether the predatory behaviour of cats influences the attitudes of their owners.

In the UK, 23% of households share a population of over ten million domestic cats. Previous studies have shown that although the majority of cats only return a small amount of prey, one or two items per month, it is the cumulative effect of high densities of cats that is likely to have an overall negative effect on the environment.

Regardless of the amount of prey returned by their cats, the majority of cat owners did not agree that cats are harmful to wildlife and were against suggestions that they should keep their cat inside as a control measure. They were however willing to consider neutering which is generally associated with cat welfare.

The results of the study carried out the researchers at Queen Mary University of London indicate that management options to control cat predation are likely to be unsuccessful unless they focus on cat welfare.

Professor Matthew Evans, Professor of Ecology at Queen Mary University of London, said that through their study they examined how aware cat owners were of the predatory behaviour of their pet. Though the owners did have a lot of awareness about the predatory behaviour of their cats, they didn’t agree with any measures that might limit the impact that cats have on local wildlife.

“This study illustrates how difficult it would be to change the behaviour of cat owners if they are both unaware of how many animals are killed by their pet and resistant to control measures.”

This will leave conservationists working towards reducing cat predation with serious difficulties as owners won’t be willing to take any part in such measures, added professor Evans.

Dr Jenni McDonald from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall said: “Our study shows that cat owners do not accept that cats are a threat to wildlife, and oppose management strategies with the exception of neutering.

“There is a clear need to directly address the perceptions and opinions of cat owners.”

“If we are to successfully reduce the number of wildlife deaths caused by domestic cats, the study suggests that we should use cat welfare as a method of encouraging cat owners to get involved.”