The truth about cats and wildlife

The truth about cats and wildlife

[Introduction][Against cats][In defense of cats][References]

The disappearance of bird and other wildlife species is the fault of humans, not cats.

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Climate change looms as the greatest ever threat to birds

72% of all bird species in Australia and more than a third in Europe could become extinct unless efforts to stop global warming are intensified. (From: Bird species and climate change: the global status report. See for the complete annual reports.)



Indiscriminate burning-off practices destroy countless thousands of lizards, geckos and other small vertebrate animals

As reported by Ted Johansen, in his guide to the lizards of the Northern Territory. Mr Johansen won the National Landcare Program Individual Landcarer Award 2008 for his outstanding work in researching and creating awareness of the yellow-snouted gecko (Diplodactylus occultus).


Environmental groups and councils often call for the confinement of cats to prevent their predation on birds and other wildlife. Cats do kill birds and small wildlife species, but there has been a great deal of misinformation and propaganda about the true harm they cause. This debate has become so heated at times, fueled by a minority of vocal cat haters who often have the ear of government, that people have lost sight of the fact that it is humans themselves who are the real culprits. Massive, continually escalating, and largely irreversible damage to the environment by human activity (habitat destruction and global warming) is the main reason for the widescale disappearance of wildlife species. If given the opportunity, cats actually mainly prey on rodents and rabbits, the so-called pest species that humans have spent millions trying to control.

Cats through the ages have been cruelly persecuted and almost wiped out at times for various reasons, most notably during the Middle Ages when they became all but extinct in Europe due to suspicion and fear that they were witches in disguise. The result was that rats were able to proliferate and bubonic plague or Black Death, which is carried by the rat flea, killed one third of the known human population. It is worth noting that the plague bacillus is still with us today, still present in many countries including Australia. Rodents also transmit other diseases that are potentially devastating to humans, including hanta virus, which makes cyclic reappearances in various parts of the world whenever carrier rodent numbers build up.

In some quarters, including some government departments, cats have been made convenient scapegoats for the human activities which have caused most of the wildlife decimation not only habitat destruction and global warming as already mentioned, but also hunting activities for food, sport, and in some cases, "control" of feral and nuisance populations. Also thousands of birds and other wildlife are accidentally killed each day by cars. Dead birds are everywhere on our roads and it is a distressing site to see the number of marsupial carcasses littering the highways of inland Australia. "Every day Australian drivers kill about 40,000 native animals on the nation's roads." (From a news item on 17/12/01). In late 2006, WIRES ran an advertisement on Australian commercial television stating that 7000 wildlife were killed each day on New South Wales roads alone. Tasmania's iconic Tasmanian devil is being decimated by a horrible facial tumour disease to such extent that there are fears for the long time survival of the species. Even so, wildlife experts will tell you that humans and their vehicles are proving an equal threat. Being carrion eaters, the devils eat road kill and so get run over themselves. Their carcases are everywhere on Tasmania's roads anywhere they still exist in some numbers (2007 observation).     

The Native Bird Liberation Alliance points out that thousands of Australia's native birds are exploited annually and often die through cruel and unacceptable trapping, trading and confinement practices. On a broader scale, there is the trafficking in wild animals that goes on all over the world. In places like Brazil for instance, it is a billion-dollar industry resulting in the removal of vast numbers of animals from their natural habitat, many of which die before they ever reach their destinations. The Humane Society International estimates that the illicit global trade in wildlife is second only to the drug trade in terms of dollars involved. It is driving thousands of species to extinction and causes millions of animals to be kept in inhumane conditions.

And finally, perhaps the most telling arguments of all can be found in the books of Queensland biologist Tim Low. Just a couple of noteworthy quotes (in italics) are as follows:
1. Instead of needlessly angering cat owners by vilifying their pets (and I should say that I have never owned a cat), we might look around us at all the other (environmental) pests receiving much less attention. (from "Feral Future")

2. Biologists are coming up against more and more examples of birds and marsupials causing eco-strife. (from "The New Nature").

This highlights that, aside from the activities of humans themselves which is the most difficult challenge to the environment, the eco-terrorism activities of our "cutest and most colourful" birds also have a major impact. E.g. the currawong is well known as a vicious killer of other birds. Magpies when nesting will also attack and kill smaller birds such as willie wagtails (personal observation). Then there are the noisy miners, which are so belligerent and aggressive that they drive away everything else. 3. When small birds vanish from city precincts, cats usually cop the blame, but noisy miners are often responsible.

Then there is the much-loved bellbird (bell miner), which engages in activities that allow sapsucking insects to build up to such extent that giant forest eucalypts will die. 4. Bushmen will tell you bellbirds live in "sick" forests.

It needs to be pointed out that noisy miners and bell miners are native to Australia and should not be confused with the introduced mynahs. The eco-terrorism activities of birds like miners also goes to prove that not all native animals and birds are "good guys", although it can be argued that successful species should not be condemned for being just that  – successful.

The argument against cats

The argument in defense of cats