Thursday, 5 June 2008

The Menace of the Cat

The Menace of the Cat is the title of a leaflet I purchased on ebay recently, with a couple of other items all dating from 1922 and earlier. And it is an issue that has not gone away. My ebay purchases were all published in the USA, and despite all the evidence of the enormous damage that domestic and feral cats cause to wildlife, in almost all parts of the world, they are still allowed to roam free. In 1922 it was estimated that cats, in New York State alone, were responsible for killing at least 3.5 million birds, mostly songbirds.

These early pamphlets were all advocating licencing of cats, as a way of controlling their numbers. In fact, the spread of rabies has helped control cats in many parts of the US, as cat owners don't want their pets to come into contact with wild possums, raccoons and other species. But in Britain cats are probably more abundant than they have ever been. And almost every cat owner will defend their darling moggies claiming either 'They don't kill birds' or 'They only kill the occasional bird'

But even with a low estimate of the number of cats in Britain, of 10 million, back in 2003, the Mammal Society estimated that cats killed around 300 million mammals and birds a year. Another point to bear in mind is that cats often kill birds when they are at their most vulnerable -- when feeding young, and gathering food for nestlings. And cats do not always kill for food. They are often well fed, with cat food (another subject for the environmentally conscious), and consequently will kill to excess.

But it is a political hot potato, and I can't see the RSPB taking up the cudgels and lobbying for cat licensing, or a ban on cats roaming freely. Nor BirdLife International. The American Bird Conservancy, is one of the few major bird organisations that has really stood up and put its head above the parapet.

But unlike many of the other ways that wildlife is under attack, free roaming cats are something we could bring a halt to. Once upon a time dogs roamed the streets of England -- in my childhood I remember them being let out of an evening in suburban London -- and that is now a thing of the past. Time the same happened to cats?

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