Cats and Wildlife: What you need to know
It is estimated that there are around 10.9 million pet cats in the UK as of February 2020.
That's roughly 26% of UK adults owning a cat! Cats Protection believes there are also 1.5 million feral cats. These cats are former pets living in the wild, or cats that were born in the wild. When it comes to the wildlife death count, there are various studies that have been done and one study suggests that 92 million prey items are caught by cats each year!
Cats that roam freely are a concern to conservationists everywhere. Cats are a predator species and prey on a variety of birds and small mammals. We also see threats through interbreeding with the Scottish Wildcat.
Some bird species that are particularity at risk as they are house sparrows and starlings. These two bird species have shown declines in breeding populations across a range of habitats. Small mammal species of concern are harvest mice, shrews, and baby rabbits.
Cats have also been known to prey on UK native reptiles such as the slow worm and amphibians like frogs and toads.
For the Scottish wildcat in particular, hybridisation is a massive concern. This happens when a Scottish wildcat breeds with a domestic cat and makes a cross. These crosses are feral and will then go on to breed with other wildcats to make more hybrid crossed kittens. This changes their appearance and genetics completely. The fear is that through this hybrid breeding, the pure species of the Scottish wildcat will be extinct and lost forever.
But what can we do?
It's not all doom and gloom! There are some simple things you can start to do now to do your part to help decrease the threat to our UK wildlife.
Keep your cat inside- Domestic cats are well suited and adapted to indoor life. Cats have litter boxes that allow them to toilet indoors so there is no need to let them out for this. As for exercise, there are many mental and physical stimulating things that can be done to keep your cat happy indoors. Cats do not have the same exercise requirements as dogs and therefore do not need as much exercise to require going outdoors. Most cats are happy to stay inside to snuggle and nap on the sofa.
Bells- These are a good way to warn potential prey of your cat's presence. Bells alert those prey animals in enough time to give them a chance to escape. Many studies show that a cat with a bell on their collar reduces the amount of animals that cats kill. Collars with bells are inexpensive and can be bought online, in a pet store, or from a local independent pet boutique.
If you must, bring your cat in at night- If you really want to allow your cat out to explore, consider bringing them in at night. Cats that are brought in at night kill fewer prey items than ones that are allowed to always free roam. This is because most of our native small mammals are nocturnal and this takes away those opportunities to kill by cats kept in for the night.
Let's work together to save our native species and enjoy wildlife!
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