Whether they are hiding under the couch, ready to swipe your ankles or perched on the edge of the bookcase waiting to dive-bomb your head, cats are don't hesitate to assert authority over their human companions. Cat owners readily compare their feline frenemies to their big cat cousins for their hunting prowess — and they are not wrong.
A study published this March in the journal Animal Conservation found that domestic outdoor cats are voracious hunters in their own neighborhoods — but it is what they prey upon, rather than how much of it, that truly matters.
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To uncover the secrets of how cats hunt, scientists kitted out 925 pet cats living in several different countries with GPS backpacks to track their every move — and pounce.
Shockingly, outdoor domestic cats killed up to ten times more prey than comparable predators in the wild, the study revealed. The authors report that adept hunters were bagging eleven prey a month. Less enthusiastic hunters managed about four kills per month.
Across the world, this stacks up to an estimated annual feline body count of between 1 and 4 billion birds and up to 22 billion other mammals, a 2013 study found. This is a particularly pressing problem in North America, where songbirds have suffered sharp declines.
But more than just the number of kills, the researchers behind this March study say that it's the hyperlocal nature of the kills that really puts wildlife in danger.
“Our research shows that pet cats can have a large impact on prey populations, but that this is mostly localized near their houses,” said Roland Kays, lead author and a professor at North Carolina State University, in a video accompanying the study.
While wild cats often have large, natural environments to roam in — often up to 605 hectares — household cats tend to stick to the areas they know best: their own neighborhood. This puts household cats' range at just 3.6 hectares on average, roughly 200 times less than wild cats.
As a result, when looking at how many prey were killed on average per hectare by both wild cats and domestic cats, the researchers found that domestic cats actually had a bigger ecological impact.
"[P]ets can have an ecological impact on their prey between two and five times that of a wild predator," says Troi Perkins, a master's student at North Carolina State who contributed to the research.
Luckily, the fix to this problem is simple say researchers: keep your cats inside. This will not only help lessen the dramatic impact on your neighborhood's local ecology but may also protect your furry friend from becoming prey themselves to larger predators like fisher cats.
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