A killer so close - L'Express - THECHOWANIECS.COM

A killer so close – L’Express

MAGAZINE. Well adapted to the comfort of our cabins, the domestic cat has nevertheless lost some of its hunting instinct and catches anything that moves with frightening ease. However, its predatory talents worry several experts, who believe that the friendly feline poses a danger to natural ecosystems.

In 2017, a genetic study was published in Nature’s 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 distribution 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 farmers’ grain reserves. Humans thus took advantage of the presence of this solitary and fierce little animal to fight pests, marking the beginning of a long process of domestication. However, these thousands of years of domestication have apparently not been enough to eliminate its hunting instinct. Unlike the dog, for whom domestication has profoundly altered its DNA, the cat has remained genetically very close to its wild ancestors. This is partly because over the centuries it continued to breed with wild specimens and had no problem returning to live in the wild when necessary.

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 ugly 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 harmful to the maintenance of biodiversity. In fact, on a global scale, the cat would be responsible for the extinction of around thirty species of birds such as the kakapo (Strigops haroptilus) 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, almost 30% of Quebec households had a cat as a pet.

In 2013, a study was published in Bird 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 die each year from the fangs of domestic cats, many of which are killed by stray cats.

Reduce cat impacts

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

For Jennifer Tremblay, the founder of the shelter, the best solution to reduce harm to our companion is simple: “Keep it inside!” This measure would save both for wildlife, but also for the health of our cats. In fact, the average life expectancy for cats that frequent the outdoors is 5 years versus 15 years for those that stay indoors. The reasons for this discrepancy are several: injuries caused by other cats or wild animals, diseases, collisions, abuse, etc. Another solution to recommend is to make sure to have your cat sterilized due to its high reproduction rate and the large number of attacks committed 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 to reduce his hunting success. Since birds are very sensitive to color, an excellent solution is to consider equipping our feline with a colored collar, a device that visually alerts the birds to its presence. As a bonus, your cat will look like a fashion card!

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

A piece of history

Concerns about the impact of domestic cats on wildlife are not new. In 1930 the newspaper came Clarionpublished in Saint-Hyacinthe, described the domestic cat as follows:
Almost all carnivores 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 cat. And the songbirds that nest around our homes are largely destroyed by these marauders.

Leave a Comment