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Fuzzy math on cats, birds clouds highly questionable ‘study’

Did you see it? It was all over the Internet the last couple of days. Sound the alarm, alert the news media. Reportedly, cats are stone-cold killers to the tune of possibly 19 billion animals a year!

USA Today, the New York Times, NPR and just about everybody else have been reporting on a “study,” released in the journal Nature Communications, that claims startling new estimates for the number of prey captured each year by free-roaming and feral cats.

The report, “The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States,” unfortunately relies on the agenda-driven analysis of its authors and is devoid of any critical assessment of source material or common-sense implications of its claims.

This particular “study” was designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to directly attack non-lethal programs for outdoor cats and all who support them. It contains no new information and includes estimates from studies dating back 75 years.

While the authors themselves dismiss some of these studies, they nevertheless proceed to use them, along with other source material mathematically extrapolated from the perceived hunting habits of a dozen well-fed house cats. Seriously, that is the extent of some of the research that produced these numbers.

The report claims, for example, that cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds. One has to ask why the only bird deaths that seem to matter are those that are — when combined with misrepresentation and bad math — attributed to cats.

Where are the studies surrounding the annual number of birds killed by sport hunters, pest control or pollution? And, although there has been some work done regarding birds killed by wind turbines, cell phone towers and window strikes, this information lacks the concerted public opinion manipulation that is so evident in this “war on cats and all who love them.”

The “concern” by academics towards the death of wildlife is equally suspect. According to the report, cats kill more than 12 billion small mammals per year — mostly mice, moles, squirrels and shrews. Such a figure would suggest that squirrels (not to mention mice and other rodents) are on the verge of extinction — obviously nonsense to anyone who lives near any city park.

Where are the studies and scientific analysis surrounding the number of rodents killed by poisons intentionally set under kitchen sinks? What about those vicious and equally indefensible glue or mole traps? How about the millions of squirrels killed or maimed annually by hunters or children who gleefully discover their first BB gun under the Christmas tree?

But there is a larger point here. You would think that cat advocates and wildlife biologists (sometimes one and the same person) should all want the same thing — to stabilize and reduce the numbers of stray and free-roaming cats across the country. The difference is in how to get there.

Let’s face it. The authors and the anti-free-roaming cat contingent want stray and feral cats to be rounded up and killed, plain and simple. They want this in spite of the fact that this standard approach to controlling outdoor cat populations has been deemed cruel, cost-prohibitive, inefficient and generally unacceptable to the pet-loving public.

In truth, no one actually knows how many free-roaming cats there are in this country, which makes it impossible — and frankly irresponsible — to pull a number out of the air and multiply it by a theoretical number of birds that the average cat supposedly kills each day. This is especially true when the number is derived in part from observing chubby house cats.

Trap/neuter/return, or TNR, which the authors dismiss, is a proven and humane method for reducing the number of community cats. TNR involves trapping, neutering and releasing community cats back to their colonies. Sterile cats obviously can’t reproduce, and, over time, TNR reduces the number of free-roaming cats in the target colony.

If the number of community cats continues to grow, it means that TNR is not being practiced as widely as it should be. Meanwhile, individuals, such as the report’s authors, keep recycling and repackaging the same discredited information.

Let’s face it, scapegoating cats is a huge and, sadly, lucrative business. If even half the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s energy and funding was geared toward spay/neuter and educational programs, this problem wouldn’t be an issue. But, that, of course, would result in a lot of well-connected, taxpayer-reliant academics being forced out of work.

This latest misguided ”study” is nothing more than a calculated effort to block the universal endorsement of a sound, humane population management strategy for cats that has been successful in municipalities across the country.
Francis Battista, Co-founder, Best Friends Animal Society Francis Battista
Co-founder
Best Friends Animal Society