Conservationists have long been concerned about the number of animals caught by domestic cats. In the US alone, estimates dictate that here are as many as 95.6 million domestic cats. As such, researchers from the University of Exeter in England have begun research into cat owners' behavior to identify policies that may reduce their impact on local ecosystems.
Although domestic cats tend to kill very few wild animals, due to the sheer size of their population, some worry that their occasional prey adds up and negatively affects local populations of birds, small mammals, and reptiles. What's more, due to differing priorities between those who champion cat welfare and wildlife conservation, addressing this issue has been difficult.
As such, the researchers decided to instigate the 'Cats, Cat Owners and Wildlife' research project to find a conservation win-win in which ways for owners to manage their cats may be identified that both benefit their health and safety, as well as that of local wildlife.
For the study, the researchers surveyed 56 cat owners from both rural and urban areas in England. They were then able to arrange cat owners into five groups. 'Conscientious caretakers' were concerned about how their cats impact wildlife and feel somewhat responsible for their behavior, 'freedom defenders' opposed restrictions on cat behavior and 'concerned protectors' focused on cat safety.
Meanwhile, although 'tolerant guardians' disliked their cats' hunting behaviors, they accepted its occurrence. Lastly, 'laissez-faire landlords' were mostly unaware of any issues of heir cats roaming and hunting in their neighborhoods.
While most cat owners seemed to value outdoor access for cats, the researchers noted that only one kind of cat owner regarded hunting behavior positively. The researchers thus say that although cat confinement policies are unlikely to find support among cat owners, those that involve reducing the likelihood of hunting may have more success.
In particular, they note that methods to reduce hunting success among cats include fitting cats' collars with brightly colored 'BirdsBeSafe' collar covers, as well as bells.
Currently examining the effectiveness of these strategies and other measures, the researchers are optimistic that their research will help cat owners both better manage their cats' behavior and protect local wildlife.