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A killer so close – L’Express

MAGAZINE. Well adapted to the comfort of our cottages, the domestic cat has nevertheless lost none of its hunting instinct, catching anything that moves with intimidating ease. Its predatory talents, however, worry several experts, who believe that the friendly feline represents a danger to natural ecosystems.

In 2017, a genetic study published in Nature Ecology and Evolutiontaught us that the ancestor of the domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) would be the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), a small feline whose range extends from North Africa to the Middle East. The latter would have had its first contact with humans more than 10,000 years ago, during the sedentarization of farmers in the Near East. The carnivore feasted on the rodents that came to feed on the grain reserves of the farmers. Humans thus took advantage of the presence of this solitary and fierce little beast to control vermin, which marked the beginning of a long process of domestication. However, these thousands of years of domestication have obviously not been enough to eliminate its hunting instinct. Unlike the dog, for whom domestication has profoundly changed its DNA, the cat has remained genetically very close to its wild ancestors. This is partly due to the fact that it continued, over the centuries, to breed with wild specimens and had no problem returning to live in the wild when needed.

Although some cats are poor hunters, the vast majority cannot resist attacking any creature that dares to move in their field of vision. Everything goes there: small mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates. This nasty mania has convinced the specialists of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to include the domestic cat in the list of the 100 invasive alien species most damaging to the maintenance of biodiversity. Indeed, on a global scale, the cat would be responsible for the extinction of about thirty species of birds such as the kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) and Stephens’ xenic (Xenicus lyalli), two species endemic to New Zealand and the disappearance of certain mammals endemic to the Caribbean and the Galapagos Islands. In the United States, it is believed to be responsible for the decline of several endangered species, including the swamp rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris hefneri).

According to the Canadian Animal Health Institute, in 2020 there were more than 8.1 million domestic cats in the country, not including stray cats. In 2008, nearly 30% of Quebec households had a cat as a pet.

In 2013, a study published in the Avian Conservation and Ecology concluded that cats are one of the leading causes of death among birds in the country. It is estimated that between 105 and 348 million birds perish each year from the fangs of domestic cats, with many being killed by stray cats.

Reduce kitty impacts

SOS Miss Dolittle, a shelter for injured wild animals and orphans located on the South Shore of Quebec, has a front row seat to observe the impact of cats on wildlife. In 2021, the establishment welcomed more than 1,300 animals, including 900 birds – 15% of these birds had been injured by a cat.

For Jennifer Tremblay, founder of the shelter, the best solution to reduce the damage of our companion is simple: “keep it inside!” This measure would be saving both for wildlife, but also for the health of our cats. Indeed, the average life expectancy of cats that frequent the outdoors is 5 years against 15 years for those that stay indoors. The causes of this discrepancy are multiple: injuries caused by other cats or wild animals, illnesses, collisions, abuse, etc. Another solution to recommend is to make sure to have your cat sterilized, given its high reproduction rate and the large number of attacks perpetrated by stray cats.

In the rare situations where it would be impossible to keep our favorite hunter indoors, the use of bell collars should be considered in order to reduce his hunting success. Birds being very sensitive to colors, an excellent solution to consider is to equip our feline with a colored collar, a device that visually alerts the birds of its presence. As a bonus, your cat will look like a fashion card!

On the subject of collars, Jennifer Tremblay specifies however that they are not very effective in protecting birds or juvenile mammals: “They have not yet learned to fear the cat and are too vulnerable to defend themselves. A cat can destroy a complete brood in a few moments”, specifies the specialist in animal rehabilitation.

A slice of history

Concerns about the impact of domestic cats on wildlife are not new. In 1930, the newspaper The Clarionpublished in Saint-Hyacinthe, described the domestic cat in these terms:
Almost all carnivorous animals are bird-killers, but the worst is the domestic cat. At nightfall, we see him along the roads satisfying his carnivorous instincts. It is hard to believe the number of birds and harmless little creatures destroyed by this hypocritical feline. And the songbirds that nest around our homes are largely destroyed by these marauders.



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