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.. Cats, ecology & conservation

 

The effect domestic pets (an introduced species) actually have on wild bird populations is a subject of heated debate & is under observation. Cats undoubtedly catch birds, especially fledglings but generally only on rare occasions as they do not need to regularly hunt for food. Birds such as blackbirds have a high infant mortality rate & are also a prolific species. Fledglings that fall out of nests are likely to die in any case (natural un-selection) & cats that pick them up would be just one of many potential outcomes.

With over 7 million domestic cats being kept in the U.K. the rare occasions that a healthy adult bird is caught, could add up to a large number.

Keeping pet cats well fed & stimulated with enrichments can satisfy their hunting instincts.

Domestic cats should be shut indoors before it gets dark. This is when the majority of songbirds etc are at their most vulnerable & when cats readily switch to hunting mode.

It is also recommended to keep them in before darkness falls, as the chances of them getting lost & going astray greatly increase.

A domesticated animal which has reverted completely to a wild state, is described as feral.

Feral cats are different to true wild cats as they are a species which has been introduced accidentally or otherwise by man. Feral cats can be found on every continent including the galapagos islands, Australia & even the antarctic Macquarie's island.

Over millions of years as wildlife evolves, there is a natural arms race. Plants develop thorns & toxins to deter herbivores from destroying them, whilst producing colourful berries or nuts in order to attract hungry animals towards seeds for germination & proliferation.

Herbivorous prey animals can develop almost 360 degree night vision sensitive to movement, & limbs equiped to escape the specific predators they are evolving to evade.

When colonies of introduced predators suddenly appear (in geological terms), wildlife is ill equipped to deal with the new threat as they have not had time to develop survival strategies.

One example of an introduced species causing devestation can be seen in New Zealand
Possums were introduced to New Zealand from Australia for meat & fur. In Australia, the foliage, flaura & fauna
had evolved tough thorny & chemical defences, having evolved for millions of years with the animals. Predators also evolved to take advantage of the marsupials & the combination has naturally kept their numbers in balance (they are even a protected species in Australia).  

In New Zealand, Possums have no predators & the forests have developed no defence from this unexpected threat. With no natural predators & abundant food, the possum population soon outnumbered the human one.

35 million possums can eat over four million tonnes of defenceless vegetation in one year. 

Small cats are a prolific species that depend on numbers for genetic survival.

Truly feral cats have been born wild out of their natural geographic environment & have little or no contact with humans.

Feral cat numbers boom if they find themselves in an environment with no natural predators. Populations will grow around a food source (which can be protected prey animals) & ultimately decline through suffering due to the unsustainable numbers.

Wastelands or industrial estates offer good hunting grounds & collection points for strays, while railway lines allow for wide ranged - scavenging & forraging. Colonies in the U.K. are less obvious but it is still a problem. Responsible pet owners neuter & spay their companion animals, but many still don't. This contributes to the numbers of animals that stray & kittens that are born in hedges.

In cities they can go largely unnoticed as they are crepuscular - meaning they are most active during the low light of dusk & dawn. On the whole they avoid human activity, but they are happy to scavenge around bins.

Some charities in the U.K. tackle the problems & excersise trap - neuter & release policies. This limits the breeding capability of a colony & prevents any population increase. Culling has been proven to be in-effective as a means of control, as the vacuums created by destroying the animals, simply provides the space & resources for individuals that would not otherwise survive - to thrive.

Wild cats once upon a time were welcomed in by us as pest deterants, they quite naturally tamed & became household companions, but as one of the most recent animals to have been domesticated, cats have never lost their wild streak.

This does not mean that domesticated animals are capable of surviving alone,  they have not been taught the survival skills by successful wild parents. 

 

 

Starvin Marvin

Starvin Marvin

Morris, Monty & Matilda

Morris, Monty & Matilda

Monty caught on camera, asleep by the window

Monty caught on camera, asleep by the window

Grateful for food, but keeping a wary watch

Grateful for food, but keeping a wary watch

Cat carriers split into two halves, straw scattered inside (available as rabbit bedding in pet shops) makes great bedding. Ensure nests are sheltered from rain

Cat carriers split into two halves, straw scattered inside (available as rabbit bedding in pet shops) makes great bedding. Ensure nests are sheltered from rain

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