5 Ways Feral Cats Do More Good Than Harm for Wildlife
An Australian study shows feral cats help some endangered animals survive. I say: “Well, duh!”
A group of scientists from the epicenter of the debate on community cat colony managementrecently made a discovery they termed “surprising.” A report in the journal Global Ecology and Biology showed that native mammals were most likely to die off on islands that had rats, but not cats, foxes, or dingoes.
I’m actually stunned that the scientists were surprised by this discovery. I only had to watch PBS shows and take high school science classes to learn how predator-prey relationships benefit prey animals. You’d think a bunch of Ph.Ds would have learned this lesson along the way, too. For those who need a refresher course, here’s how feral cats actually help prey animals to survive.
1. They kill other animals that cause harm
On Australian islands where feral cats were eliminated, rat populations rose exponentially. Rats are notorious for eating bird eggs, and as a result of being overrun by rats, bird populations on those islands were decimated.
2. They kill the weakest and slowest animals
By eating rodents or birds that don’t have the health and vitality to survive, or that lack the ability to camouflage themselves, feral cats help to assure that prey animal populations become stronger and more adapted to their environment.
3. They make prey animals smarter
Prey animals that learn that cats are to be avoided teach this lesson to their offspring. Those that get the clue will survive, and therefore the population as a whole will become smarter and more likely to live to reproduce.
4. They help to maintain the ecosystem
If prey populations rise too high, the impacts on the environment can be profound. After the elimination of feral cats in Australia’s Macquarie Island, rabbit populations exploded and rabbit grazing destroyed albatross habitats. By preying on those rabbits, feral cats helped to ensure that the island’s ecosystem remained stable.
5. They increase biodiversity
Because predators are more likely to kill animals that have a higher population, they make room for other animals that fill the same ecological niche. Shrews and birds both eat worms, for example, but if the shrew population rises high enough to threaten the birds’ ability to eat, feral cats will come to the rescue: they’re much more likely to eat shrews since there are so many more of them, therefore leaving more food for the birds.