March 2013

Volume 22, Number 3

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Domestic Cats Take Biggest Bite out of Wildlife

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A new report indicates domestic cats may kill up to 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals every year in the U.S.

Photo: Filip Maljkovic

By Erin Weaver

A new review of existing data suggests that domestic cats are responsible for far more wildlife mortality than previously thought—more than any other human threat to birds and mammals.

In the report, published in Nature Communications, scientists estimate that cats, especially strays and feral cats, kill 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals in the U.S. every year, numbers that are two to four times previous estimates and higher than for any other human threat, including poisoning or collisions with automobiles, buildings, or wind turbines (the study did not consider the threat to birds and mammals from anthropogenic climate change). Most of the species killed are native, such as shrews and voles, rather than introduced species like the Norway rat.

Most of the killing (71% of birds and 89% of mammals) is attributed to the country’s 80 million stray and feral cats. What to do about feral cat populations can be a source of friction between environmentalists and animal-welfare activists, but all sides agree it highlights the necessity of spaying and neutering pets.

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March 1, 2013