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[This information was originally produced by Beverly Skinner, wildlife biologist at Innoko
National Wildlife Refuge (in west central Alaska), for radio broadcast on Public Radio stations
I recently attended the yearly meeting of Alaska Boreal Partners in Flight - an
organization of federal, state and private organizations working together for the
conservation of neo-tropical birds who breed in Alaska. One issue we discussed was cats.
So what do cats and birds have in common? Unfortunately a lot.
Our domestic cats originally came from a wild cat species - the European and African
Wild Cat. Along with their looks, domestic cats kept many of their wild ancestors behaviors
such as hunting. Unlike the wild native cats who quit hunting when full, a domesticated
cat's desire to hunt is not suppressed when they are fed regularly by people. Even when
full, a domestic cat will continue hunting and killing. Cats were first domesticated by
the Egyptians who whorshiped them as goddesses. The Romans eventually introduced the
domestic cat to Britain by 300 AD and they ended up in the United States several hundred
years ago when European colonists brought them along by ship.
It is estimated there are over 66 million pet cats in the United States and approximately 40 million
of these cats spend part or all of their time outdoors. There are an additional 40 to 60
million stray and feral cats living in the United States with each female stray cat averaging 3
litters of kittens a year. What this amounts to is somewhere around 100 million cats
hunting for small mammals and birds to eat every day of the year. Although small mammals
make up about 70 percent of their diet, it is estimated that our pet and feral cats
are killing hundreds of millions of birds each year. Cats also compete with native
predators such as hawks and weasels and may also transmit new diseases such as feline
leukemia to wild animals.
What can you personally do about this problem? The most effective solution is, if at all
possible, keep your cat indoors. Confinement will eliminate unwanted kittens, predation
on wild animals including birds, plus the spread of disease to local wildlife. Bells around
a cat's neck don't work. Most cats are effective enough predators that by the time a bell
jingles, it is too late for the cat's chosen prey to escape. You can also neuter your
cat, locate bird feeders in sites that do not provide cover for cats to wait in ambush,
and put animal guards around any trees in your yard that has nesting birds.
For Alaska Naturally and the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge,
this is Beverly Skinner. The problem of cat predation on
wild animals including birds is not limited to just the United States. Worldwide, cats
have been involved in the extinction of more bird species than any other cause except
habitat destruction. In New Zealand alone cats are responsible for the total extinction
of 8 species and have wiped out the country's populations of over 40 other species.
Domestic cats and Wildlife - definitely a problem we need to work on more.
Note: This is the MapCruzin.com archive of the FWS Arctic National Wildlife Refuge website. In December, 2001 FWS took this website offline, making it unavailable to the public. It includes 90 plus pages of information and many maps. As of 2006 the important information contained in this, the original "unsanitized" version of the FWS website, has yet to return to the internet, so we will continue to maintain it here as a permanent archive to help inform activists and concerned citizens. If you find any broken links, please report them to me at [email protected] and I will attempt to make the repairs. January, 2008 update - A small part of the original information that was present in 2001 has made it back into the current ANWR website. There is also an archive that contains a small amount of the original information, but it is not readily available from the main website.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas
development on the Arctic Refuge’s
coastal plain: Historical overview and
issues of concern. Web page of the Arctic National
17 January 2001. http://arctic.fws.gov/issues1.html
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