• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

Killer Kitties Create Carnage

cat-with-rabbit-in-mouth

The New York Times breaks the shocking story (“That Cuddly Kitty Is Deadlier Than You Think“) that cats kill birds and small mammals:

For all the adorable images of cats that play the piano, flush the toilet, mew melodiously and find their way back home over hundreds of miles, scientists have identified a shocking new truth: cats are far deadlier than anyone realized.

In report that scaled up local surveys and pilot studies to national dimensions, scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats in the United States — both the pet Fluffies that spend part of the day outdoors and the unnamed strays and ferals that never leave it — kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year, most of them native mammals like shrews, chipmunks and voles rather than introduced pests like the Norway rat.

The estimated kill rates are two to four times higher than mortality figures previously bandied about, and position the domestic cat as one of the single greatest human-linked threats to wildlife in the nation. More birds and mammals die at the mouths of cats, the report said, than from automobile strikes, pesticides and poisons, collisions with skyscrapers and windmills and other so-called anthropogenic causes.

Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and an author of the report, said the mortality figures that emerge from the new model “are shockingly high.”

“When we ran the model, we didn’t know what to expect,” said Dr. Marra, who performed the analysis with his colleague, Scott R. Loss, and Tom Will of the Fish and Wildlife Service. “We were absolutely stunned by the results.” The study appeared Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

This is a startling revelation to anyone who’s never had a pet cat or watched Saturday morning cartoons.

Related Posts:

About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. MBunge says:

    And what happens to the environment if there’s suddenly 2.4 billion more birds and 12.3 billion more mammals running around?

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  2. john personna says:

    @MBunge:

    Cats mainly operate in a suburban range stripped of traditional predators. They aren’t going to go far themselves, in coyote territory.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MBunge:

    And what happens to the environment if there’s suddenly 2.4 billion more birds and 12.3 billion more mammals running around?

    uhhhh let me guess(never minding the “suddenly” aspect of the question): It is more diverse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Fortunately, the coyotes will go after the Norway rats. And the cats. It’s the Circle of Life!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  5. Geek, Esq. says:

    It’s not just that they kill (how do people think carnivores make a living) but that they’re so incredibly good at it. Stealth, fast-twitch muscle fibers, remarkable flexibility and body control, athleticism, and lethal sharp claws on the front paws. There’s never been a more perfect killing machine on the planet.

    Birds, squirrels, etc are just overmatched. And if people think it’s bad here ,just talk to folks in Australia where they’re an invasive species in the wild and have caused extinctions of many species.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  6. Anderson says:

    Birds can FLY. I have no pity for them.

    And I’m happy my cats catch the voles that otherwise would ruin my lawn.

    The people who go “why let your cat outside?” have never tried to keep three cats from going outside.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  7. gVOR08 says:

    @Anderson: Yes, we have, successfully except for a couple of hour or so episodes. Four cats.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. matt bernius says:

    For those who haven’t seen, The Oatmeal tackled this topic a few months ago –
    http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cats_actually_kill

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. Rafer Janders says:

    @MBunge:

    And what happens to the environment if there’s suddenly 2.4 billion more birds and 12.3 billion more mammals running around?

    Biodiversity?

    I mean, yeah, the less animals, the better. Let’s all be happy we don’t have those millions of buffalo roaming around anymore, for example, so that we can enjoy the Great Plains as they were meant to be – a barren desolate tundra devoid of life.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  10. Rafer Janders says:

    @Anderson:

    The people who go “why let your cat outside?” have never tried to keep three cats from going outside.

    What, did those cats magically appear in your house one day? Or did you deliberately go out and buy them? Don’t blame other people for the choices you’ve freely made.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  11. Gromitt Gunn says:

    As Terry Pratchett pointed out, the only reason your house cat doesn’t eat you is because of the size difference.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  12. ernieyeball says:

    Dogs, on the other hand, are totally worthless. All they do is bark and sh!t.

    Oh yeah…and kill children.

    Of the 31 fatal dog attacks reported in the United States in 2012, most by a family pet, 15 victims were children 6 years old or younger. The youngest child was 2 days old.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fatal_dog_attacks_in_the_United_States

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  13. JKB says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    I disagree. The only reason my cat hasn’t eaten me is because she would have to train someone else to serve her every need.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  14. Tsar Jan Bithead Nicholas says:

    @JKB: Sounds like you’re being Socialist with your pets! Bad RINO, bad!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  15. JKB says:

    @john personna:

    Not true, I live rural. Nearest neighbors 1/4 mile and 200 acres of a tree farm abuts my property. Coyotes are common. My cat survives many hours out of doors. A half-feral cat I feed does very well for himself outdoors 24/7. And I’m fairly certain I have another cat working the perimeter. They are all black cats and it is hard to tell them apart with the latter only coming at night.

    I also have hundreds of bird, of great diversity who eat the hard food I put out. Unfortunately, the cats have been less than diligent in killing the vole or voles that rip up my yard this time of year. But let a mouse breach the foundation and his days are numbered.

    The problem is I believe low-life “pet owners” are dropping off the “pets” they bought on a whim.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  16. JKB says:

    @Tsar Jan Bithead Nicholas: you’re being Socialist

    You are very confused. Nothing in what I said shows a distrust of individual initiative and enterprise nor the assumption, by the state, of functions which have hitherto been left to personal choices and personal aims.

    Perhaps if you looked into what a Socialist really supports and believes rather than relying on the dissimulation of enthralled academia?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  17. grumpy realist says:

    Grew up in a rural area with cats. Very well acquainted with cats and their hunting capacities. (Furry Somme outside the doorstep each morning.)

    Having watched one of my cats hunt birds, I don’t have much sympathy for the birds. In hiding? Ha. Fat 15 pound dark grey cat sitting underneath the bird feeder, big as life, sitting up and just waiting for them to come and perch on the edge.

    There’s a reason why we have the insult “bird-brain.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  18. grumpy realist says:

    Oh, and in my experience, the majority of our cats preferred mice and similar animals, probably because they were so easy to get their paws on. Dumb juvenile rabbits were also a speciality of one of our cats when the season rolled around. Most of the chipmunks and squirrels found it too easy to run up trees to be easily caught.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. rudderpedals says:

    I feel pretty good about my 3 guys. They’re indoor with free access to a caged porch for sunning and rolling around and picking off any anole lizard brained enough to slither into the cage. The only birds they get are the ones that come in cans.

    Speaking of birds, one morning we’re all outside and flying low overhead is a great blue heron with a screaming squirrel in its beak. He landed 100 yards away, dropped it and commenced stabbing it until an eternity later when the poor beast stopped screaming.

    The circle of life.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  20. Anderson says:

    Cat-haters gonna hate. Cats rule, prey drools.

    Srsly, all this whinging about pests and other animals in ample supply, while despising pets that people cherish, is faux outrage. Like there are no real problems.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  21. john personna says:

    @JKB:

    The traditional range of lynx rufus, the American bobcat, spanned southern Canada, throughout the United States, and as far south as the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

    Sure, a housecat gone wild will survive in that same range, especially given refuge, for a time.

    If you took away the humans, houses, and refuges though, cats/bobcats to Coyote ratios would probably revert to what they were.

    And that’s really my point. People live in homes, have cats, and see felis catus every day. When they total up its destruction, they are missing the counterfactual – no people and lynx rufus.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  22. matt bernius says:

    @ernieyeball:

    Of the 31 fatal dog attacks reported in the United States in 2012, most by a family pet, 15 victims were children 6 years old or younger. The youngest child was 2 days old.

    Not to revisit the guns n’ dog threads, but this is exactly why:
    1. All pet dogs should be neutered.
    2. That no dog should be left unattended with a child under 6 — regardless of breed or past behavior. And the younger the chlid, the more supervised all interactions with pets should be.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  23. john personna says:

    (The other countrfactual would be that our cities might have many more mice and rats without the cats, insert pandemic apocalypse here.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  24. ernieyeball says:

    @matt bernius: I agree. Good luck with all parents of kids of all ages complying with such reasonable practice.
    It is no secret that I like cats and don’t much care for dogs.
    However I have known cats to rip up kids pretty badly too.
    That your admonition applies to all pets is well taken.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. Anderson says:

    When they total up its destruction, they are missing the counterfactual – no people and lynx rufus.

    Bingo.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. KariQ says:

    I don’t mind when my cats catch rats, mice, and voles. I’ve only seen one bird kill, and that made me unhappy.

    What really gets to me, though, are the number of live lizards they bring inside. They never kill lizards, just bring them home and let them lose inside the house. Great fun for them until I manage to corner them and set them outside the front door, in the cat-free zone.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. grumpy realist says:

    @KariQ: We had a cat who did that with live mice. Very quickly learned that if she had a certain yowl in her voice when asking to be let in DON’T open the door…

    Then there was the time another of our cats came up and dropped a live mouse in my lap….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  28. anjin-san says:

    And what happens to the environment if there’s suddenly 2.4 billion more birds and 12.3 billion more mammals running around?

    I have no expertise on mammals, but I do know a bit about songbirds, and the populations of songbird species in North America are somewhere between stressed and in dire straits, depending on the species. A surge in populations would be a very good thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  29. anjin-san says:

    @ JKB

    Have you looked “socialist” up yet? The last time you were on one of your little rants it was quite clear you have no idea what the word means.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. anjin-san says:

    The people who go “why let your cat outside?” have never tried to keep three cats from going outside.

    Well, I have two house cats, and they have never gotten out. Never. I suspect I could do the same with three.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. ernieyeball says:

    @MBunge: And what happens to the environment if there’s suddenly 2.4 billion more birds..?

    Just ask the folks in Bodega Bay!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=fvwp&NR=1&v=mPC_Mp0Y9WM

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  32. PJ says:

    @anjin-san:

    I have no expertise on mammals, but I do know a bit about songbirds, and the populations of songbird species in North America are somewhere between stressed and in dire straits, depending on the species. A surge in populations would be a very good thing.

    If we accept the numbers in their paper, then cats are, and we are talking mostly feral cats, responsible for about 16% of Ring-necked Pheasant deaths, 10.7% of House Sparrow deaths, 8.5% of American Robin deaths, 5.6% of Red-winged Blackbird deaths, 5% of Northern Bobwhite deaths, 4.8% of Gray Catbird deaths, and for 52 other bird species the numbers are from 3.6% down to 0.1%.

    I doubt there would be much of a surge.

    And of these 58 bird species, only one is, according to the IUCN Red List, not considered to be of Least Concern, that would be the Northern Bobwhite that is Near Threatened.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  33. PJ says:

    Also, the number of birds in the US has been estimated to about 10 billion in the spring and 20 billion in the fall.

    If those numbers are correct, then I seriously doubt that cats kill about 1/4 to 1/8 of them each year. Actually, the paper estimate that cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds so up to 1/3 or 1/6 of every bird in the US get killed by cats…

    Honestly…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. PJ says:

    Here’s an NYT article from 2011 with an estimate that five billion birds die every year. So, cats are responsible for between 28% and 74% of bird deaths in the US?

    Seriously…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  35. Anderson says:

    Then there was the time another of our cats came up and dropped a live mouse in my lap….

    Desmond Morris, I think, says cats regard us as overgrown stupid kittens, and they bring us live prey because they are trying to teach us how to hunt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  36. grumpy realist says:

    @Anderson: Yes. My reaction in that case convinced her to go back to bringing me the dead ones instead. I guess I was a really DUMB kitten.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. Franklin says:

    I came for the cat videos, and I was leaving disappointed. But then I thought, why don’t I just leave one myself?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3iFhLdWjqc

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  38. KariQ says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I swear I hear my cats laugh at me as I attempt to corner and catch those lizards.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. Sully99 says:

    We’re talking billions of wild animals being killed here people!

    I think we should do a major cull of feral and wild cats along the lines of what they are doing to the Burmese pythons in the Everglades.
    Saying that all urban cats and their owners should be exposed to fines and culling if cats are seen without proper restraints.
    As we all know cats are born hunters and will hunt and kill any chance they get–it’s their nature; if you want to stop the carnage then stop the cats.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0