Without Cats, Birds Would Suffer So Would We


What would happen if all the world’s cats vanished? That’s the question posed by Natalie Wolchover on the Mother Nature Network.  And it’s a particularly relevant question since several ‘bird groups’ have recently and repeatedly pursued lots of press alleging that innocent wildlife is being exterminated by community cats. The allegation is that songbirds are at risk, many are endangered and may perish as a result of cats. This isn’t only an issue in America.

Earlier this year, a New Zealand environmentalist wanted to actually ban future cat ownership. His idea didn’t get very far, but it received international coverage and is illustrative of anti cat sentiment.

Some one must love cats, at least in America, cats are the most popular pet, outnumbering dogs. There are about 74 million pet cats in America, and about 70 million dogs. In truth, cats are man’s best friends.

I think Wolchover’s scenario is fascinating, What would life be like if at least some ardent “cat haters” did get their way, and poof – tomorrow – all the cats are gone?

Wolchover notes that the rodent population would soar, and right she is. She points out a 1997 study in Great Britain found that the average house cat brought home more than 11 dead animals (including mice, birds, frogs and more) in the course of six months. That meant the nine million cats of Britain were collectively killing close to 200 million critters a year — not including all those they did not offer up to their owners. A study in New Zealand in 1979 found that, when cats were nearly eradicated from a small island, the local rat population quickly quadrupled. And these are only two of dozens of studies which note that cats do keep vermin numbers in check. And it’s always been this way.

Going back in time, way back to the Dark Ages, cats were originally blamed for the Great Plague. So, cats (associated with witchcraft back then) were killed off. As a result rats further proliferated, rampant illness became worse and transformed to the Great Plague. It was fleas carried by rats that spread the plague. Restoring cat population did more to diminish deaths as a result of the plague than anything else medicine back then attempted.

Fast forward the clock to today – and talk off-the-record to animal control officials in big cities where budgets for rat abatement have been cut. They’ll tell you that without community cats, rats would be even more numerous. While the Great Plague isn’t likely to reoccur today, rats today do carry disease no different than in the Dark Ages.

Tree House Humane Society in Chicago works with grateful city officials, community leaders and others to eradicate vermin with community cats. The cats are spay/neutered and vaccinated for rabies – but these colonies are actually big city working cats. The model began thousands of years ago, as cats were first domesticated by simply hanging out where there was grain to keep vermin away. Later barn cats appeared, and still do “work” their magic around the world. Today in Chicago, Tree House controlled cat colonies keep vermin away from factories or other places otherwise previously rodent-ridden.

Of course, cats do kill birds. However, if there were no cats – the truth is that many bird species status would change to endangered, or even disappear all together.

It is true that flightless birds and ground nesting birds are especially prone to feline attacks. This is a particular issue in New Zealand, for instance, where so many species are flightless. However, cats or no cats – the most significant threat to birds are habitat loss and pollution (air pollution, light pollution and water pollution).

If cats vanished, some bird population numbers would actually take a nosedive – which is the opposite of what you may think at first, or what bird supporters suggest. Rats and other vermin love to eat bird eggs and baby birds. Ground nesting and flightless birds would have no defense against what would then be an out-of-control rodent population.

The bottom line is that cats are an easy target. And as “anti cat” squawking has flourished in social media, cats as scapegoats has become an unfortunate fundraising tool for bird groups.

Meanwhile, aside from unveiling exploitative misinformation (sometimes disguised as “science”), bird groups do nothing in the real world to help diminish feral cat numbers, such as participate and support trap, neuter, return (TNR).  You’d figure if they really wanted to work for cat numbers to decline, they would begin by targeting the few places where cats really are a threat – such as a cat colony near shorebird populations. And they would then help to relocate these cats.

However, I’ve left out the most significant problem which would result from a theoretical world without cats. No purring.

For many a world without a purr is like a world without the sky or the moon. I’m not referring to your “crazy cat ladies.” In the U.S. alone, about a third of all households live with at least one cat, and typically several cats. No one forces people to share their lives and their homes with felines – we do this because it feels good. And in fact, science now confirms that cats are actually healthful.

For senior citizens, in particular (though not exclusively seniors), their cat may be their only nearby family. Of course, it’s not the same as having the grandkids or friends over for a visit – but it’s something. And the human/animal bond can be remarkably powerful. There’s little question that, for some, caring for another being actually ‘keeps them going,’ offering a reason to get up in the morning.

It’s challenge for just about anyone is to look at a little kitten, and not smile. For millions of people, cats touch our hearts.