Tracking urban killers
April 20, 2020 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Cats are mysterious, dangerous and far more unpredictable than one might expect from an animal that is, theoretically, domesticated. What does an outdoor cat do all day? According to new research (NCSU), it could be taking a heavy toll on local wildlife. Another discovery from GPS (wild)life tracking (Wikipedia), this time with information from the US-focused Cat Tracker database, a project related to the wildlife tracking Move Bank (Where The Animals Go and a NatGeo Tracking Animal Migrations educational page; previously). [via NPR]
posted by filthy light thief (54 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
It seems access to the actual study is paywalled which is disappointing. I really wanted to compare it to the older ("over four billion") UK study that is regurgitated regardless of it's actual merit.
posted by -t at 2:51 PM on April 20


I don't know if this is allowed here, but -t you can find this paper on sci hub.

If this isn't allowed just delete this.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:00 PM on April 20


I could get the paper by searching its DOI (10.1111/acv.12563) in google scholar.
posted by traveler_ at 3:03 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


We really want to get a cat but I've always worried about being able to keep them indoors for this reason. Is this an appropriate place to ask for advice on how to keep an indoor cat indoors? It's in a townhouse with a toddler who is still learning to keep the front door closed.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 3:06 PM on April 20 [2 favorites]


I'd be impressed if my cat were doing anything besides sitting in the bushes next to the door.
posted by acrasis at 3:10 PM on April 20 [6 favorites]


I remember our cat dropping a dead mouse on our porch in a way that seemed to say: "Here you are, proud to contribute to the household". My parents shouted at the poor frightended cat who was just being a cat and me and my sister tried to calm her down after the incedent by trying to reason with her: "You really don't need to kill mice and birds, we can afford to buy you food." We were young.
posted by Dumsnill at 3:25 PM on April 20 [13 favorites]


Indoor cats. I understand some of you think that's horrible. Sorry, cats seem ok with it. I like that the little other living things, get to stay alive.
posted by evilDoug at 3:31 PM on April 20 [29 favorites]


Is there a tracker for all the birds killed by airplanes and tall buildings? I've seen estimates in the billions. I wish people would stop blaming cats unless they're willing to look at human culpability as well.
posted by nirblegee at 3:36 PM on April 20 [10 favorites]


Much as i love cats, they are part of human culpability. Windfarms also kill a huge number of birds, but I'm for windfarms.
posted by Dumsnill at 3:41 PM on April 20 [16 favorites]


Windfarms have been redesigned in many ways to avoid killing as many birds, and until January 2017 the energy companies were required by law to design them to limit bird deaths.

Nobody is redesigning cats.
posted by suelac at 4:21 PM on April 20 [11 favorites]


I saw some interesting clips from a movie, though.
posted by Dumsnill at 4:23 PM on April 20 [7 favorites]


We're moving towards getting a cat and I don't really know how to decide wether to allow it to be indoor/outdoor or not. My spouse is definitely in the outdoor camp, for a number of reasons. Our backyard is mostly bounded b/c it's a block of apartments so I feel better about the cat not being in the road, really. This study is a little weird because it's biggest claim is about cat's effect on its local environment vs. natural predators. But, as it notes, most domestic cats operate in a pretty small already heavily impacted ecosystem, so comparing them to natural predators who obviously have already been mostly driven out by people, seems a little mismatched.

It seems like the cat would be happier, and we would be happier, if it had some territory to roam. But I'm going to feel like shit every time it comes back with a dead songbird.
posted by macrael at 4:34 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


So far, our two cats are indoor; the boy (10 months) has managed to get to the patio a handful of times but is always overwhelmed enough to get grabbed, and since then we've just gotten much better at not letting him out.

We occasionally take him and his mom out for a stroll in a harness; she prefers to stay inside (even though she was a young stray when we got her and her kitten). He wants to go out, but it's better for him to stay in.

I would install a screen door or a storm door, beepbeepboopboop, to handle the toddler door mischief. Esp if you keep them locked, they are very difficult for tiny hands.
posted by allthinky at 4:36 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


My young cat goes outside. If he catches the rats near our house that's fine with me as otherwise my neighbour has rat traps. I also only let him out in the full day which don't seem to be prime hunting hour
posted by biggreenplant at 4:39 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Little things are meaning a lot these days and seeing the cottontail rabbits babies in the back yards has been wonderful. Seeing a neighborhood cat running across the street with a baby bunny in her mouth was hard to take. I have such mixed feelings about cats.
posted by InkaLomax at 4:48 PM on April 20 [6 favorites]


We really want to get a cat but I've always worried about being able to keep them indoors for this reason. Is this an appropriate place to ask for advice on how to keep an indoor cat indoors?

We've always had indoor cats. Mostly they just don't bother trying to get outside with the occasional break for it and then never venture more than a couple meters from the door. And even then usually only when we've got the door propped open for some reason.

Our assorted neighbours have at least 6 outdoor cats that use our flower beds as litter boxes and it is really annoying to have to get out there every couple weeks to clean up cat turds. This year we plan to lay down some hardware cloth in an attempt to discourage them.
posted by Mitheral at 4:54 PM on April 20 [3 favorites]


Cates are evil. Birbs rule.
posted by Splunge at 5:01 PM on April 20 [5 favorites]


Our assorted neighbours have at least 6 outdoor cats that use our flower beds as litter boxes

This is why I had to stop growing vegetables in my garden. Thanks asshole neighbors and your shitting orange cat.

Outdoor cats are fine where they are very low density in areas where vermin are actually a problem; ie one or a few neutered cats on a farm that has grain storage or hay lofts or livestock feed. They stick close to the buildings if you feed them twice a day and don't kill much in the way of wildlife beyond the locally higher than background numbers caused by the farm environment and there are huge swaths of cat-free habitats between farm yards. Cats in a suburban environment are very high density and wildlife has literally nowhere to go to escape them. It's disappointing to see people denigrate scientific studies because they make them feel bad about their choices in life. Facts are facts. Cats are a huge problem in places where people let them roam free.
posted by fshgrl at 5:04 PM on April 20 [28 favorites]


We really want to get a cat but I've always worried about being able to keep them indoors for this reason. Is this an appropriate place to ask for advice on how to keep an indoor cat indoors? It's in a townhouse with a toddler who is still learning to keep the front door closed.

My front door doesn't latch very well, and on occasion has gotten left wide open for indeterminate amounts of time. Of our three cats, one is an ex-feral who has been an indoor cat except for leash walks for seven years, one is an ex-hoarder cat who had god knows what experience before we got her, and one has been an indoor cat since he was a tiny baby. The first will go outside and sit in the neighbor's garden to sniff their aloe, but go no further; the latter two generally don't even bother going outside. They're not all door dashers, particularly those who have lived indoors for a long time.

The effects of cats on local wildlife are extensive and well documented. This well-publicized study from a few years ago, including many cats who were kept indoors at night and only allowed to roam during the day. There's variation in how many small wildlife outdoor cats kill on a regular basis, but none of that variation is readily observable to a cat's owner without putting a camera around its neck: most outdoor cat kills aren't brought home to the owner. If you own a cat you let wander alone outside, you have no way of knowing whether it is or is not hunting. (You also have no idea what might or might not be hunting your cat, but this is a related issue.)
posted by sciatrix at 5:04 PM on April 20 [19 favorites]


Young cats want to go outside, but it’s really, really ok if they don’t. I had outdoor cats when I was a kid and I’ve had indoor cats for the last twenty years and there’s really nothing about my experience with indoor cats that tells me they’d be happier outside.

The wildlife part of it is huge for me, but consider how much danger outdoor cats are in. In rural areas they’re subject to predation from wild animals. Everywhere that people live they’re in danger from cars. Outdoor cats also get injured in fights or get lost. It’s not necessary to put your pets in the way of these hazards.
posted by chrchr at 5:06 PM on April 20 [4 favorites]


Keeping your cats indoors not only protects other animals; it also protects your cat. There are a lot of things that are deadly to small carnivores; I don’t care about the local squirrels, but I want my little grey cats to live a long time.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:49 PM on April 20 [8 favorites]


Average lifespan of an outdoor cat is three years. Average lifespan of an indoor cat is fourteen to fifteen years. Keeping your cat indoors is not just good for wildlife, it's good for your cat.

I have four cats right now, all indoors. I grew up with indoor/outdoor cats and only two of the four died of old age, and they had become indoor cats the last half of their lives. Build a catio or teach your cat to use a leash if you want them to have the outdoor cat experience. But in my opinion it's irresponsible to let them roam outdoors on their own.
posted by schroedinger at 6:12 PM on April 20 [11 favorites]


We really want to get a cat but I've always worried about being able to keep them indoors for this reason. Is this an appropriate place to ask for advice on how to keep an indoor cat indoors? It's in a townhouse with a toddler who is still learning to keep the front door closed.

Can you install one of those mechanisms that automatically swings doors closed if they're not held open? It's a matter of your safety as much as the cat's.
posted by schroedinger at 6:14 PM on April 20


All four of my parents' cats are ex-feral, and not only are they perfectly happy indoors, they mostly respond to the thought of outdoors with a big NOPE. (No temperature control! No noms! No warm blankies! No petting on demand!) One of them made a nostalgic break for the outdoors, got lost for three weeks, and has never even looked at the door again.

I've now had five always-indoor cats and they've been quite content with their territory.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:21 PM on April 20 [6 favorites]


Starting ecology at uni -early 2000's- and looking at nutritional demand* in cats we ran the numbers and did endless sums. Cat ownership was estimated at >1 per per household and all were free-ranging (and still are). When we figured in reproduction rates of native birds and lizards many were shown to decline - which is what we see in real life.

Many of our keystone bird species are ground-dwelling. We have 0 native mammals (apart from bats which feed on moths). We also have a lot of skinks (lizards), crucial in plant pollination and seed spread. When we lose our native species we get floods - I read the same is true in Arizona with cats killing lizards resulting in flash-flooding runoff from unvegetated surfaces.

I don't own any cats, never have and would rather see and hear our amazing birdlife.

* (for cats killing is their nature - doesn't matter whether they're fed or not)
posted by unearthed at 6:34 PM on April 20 [10 favorites]


There's a lot of diseases out there in stray cat and critter populations, and every outdoor cat I owned eventually came home with some kind of infected bite or wound.

I have indoor cats now. They are healthy and sassy and have a catio to get breezes and smells. They do not bring me dead and dying things, get lost, get cut by glass or killed by cars, all things that happened to my pets growing up. I feel good about it.
posted by emjaybee at 6:38 PM on April 20 [10 favorites]


The old man I half-inherited was a farm cat in his youth, but now that he’s so old that he uses the stairs to get up onto the couch, he’s pretty content to be a couch cat.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:44 PM on April 20 [2 favorites]


But, as it notes, most domestic cats operate in a pretty small already heavily impacted ecosystem

Depends on the neighborhood. Part of the problem with fire management is that we're building suburbs in forests.
posted by benzenedream at 7:01 PM on April 20 [3 favorites]


I feel like we’ve had the discussion about feral cats, pet cats and the damage they do to song birds and local wildlife before. Keeping your cat indoors is a good idea because it increases their life expectancy by a decade or so. I’m curious if there is any evidence that pet cats displace feral populations by taking prey that would otherwise feed the feral cats.
posted by interogative mood at 7:36 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


A lot of the argument seems to boil down to "on the one hand, keeping cats indoors is hugely better for the environment and cat's health, but on the other hand I just don't want to" which what do you even do with that?
posted by Justinian at 7:57 PM on April 20 [28 favorites]


Just this afternoon I was watching a young rabbit that was frozen in the middle of the driveway; it was being stalked by a neighbor’s cat. This cat is responsible for wiping out our area’s chipmunk population, it regularly hangs out near bird feeders and kills far more than it brings home.

We have three healthy indoor cats. On rare occasions we will take them out in our fenced yard for supervised exploration. Rare because even after short outings I’ve had to remove ticks.

Our vet is firm. “Do you want healthy cats that live long and happy lives? Keep them inside. Period.”
posted by kinnakeet at 8:01 PM on April 20 [10 favorites]


Honestly just living in a relatively dense urban-ish environment (lots of single-family houses close together), I could do with a lot fewer outdoor cats around, if only because of all the ROWWWWRRRRRRRAAAAAAAWWWWRRRRR AAAAARRRRRRWWWWWRRROOOOOOWWWWWWWWRRRRR during the day as I try to do my work

The birds benefiting from it is a secondary consideration to me
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:08 PM on April 20


According to new research (NCSU), it could be taking a heavy toll on local wildlife

According to new research, ocean is wet?

Seriously. Anybody who thinks that their own particular precious little purring fuzzybutt is anything other than a stone cold killer is and always has been deluding themselves.

Keep them inside, where they can put that talent to good use against mice and cockroaches.
posted by flabdablet at 9:20 PM on April 20 [8 favorites]


Average lifespan of an outdoor cat is three years. Average lifespan of an indoor cat is fourteen to fifteen years. Keeping your cat indoors is not just good for wildlife, it's good for your cat.

Cats are carnivores. That means they eat meat. Just because you can't see the costs to nature, doesn't mean they're not there. I think this is what bothers me about the indoor/outdoor cat debate.
posted by aniola at 9:25 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


A Thousand Baited Hooks, That was part of my job description when I worked in native forest protection. You can just make your home patch not friendly to cats, doesn't take much effort to teach them to stay away (or at least stay quiet and out of sight!).
posted by unearthed at 10:03 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


But, as it notes, most domestic cats operate in a pretty small already heavily impacted ecosystem

Just because people live somewhere doesn't mean it's some kind of total write off in terms of ecological value. People need to learn to live in harmony with their local ecosystem and not destroy it to create some facsimile of an idealized garden or we are toast. It's entirely possible to do so.
posted by fshgrl at 1:28 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


A relative lost a beloved cat to a car. The new acquisition has been trained from the get-go to harness and she just lets him in the garden on a long extendable leash. The only hazards so far, 18 months in, seem to be regular leash-untangling sessions, often at 3AM...
posted by I claim sanctuary at 2:15 AM on April 21


Nobody is redesigning cats.

My neighbour two doors down was, until someone reported him to the SPCA.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:57 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


> Cats are carnivores. That means they eat meat. Just because you can't see the costs to nature, doesn't mean they're not there. I think this is what bothers me about the indoor/outdoor cat debate.

Thank you. This really is a false dichotomy in my mind too, when the most responsible option from an ecological point of view is completely clear and should lead the discussion straight to the third option: to not have cats in the first place. I was never much of a pet person at all, but ever since I listened to ecologists passionately explaining the problems they bring at my uni’s symposium on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, I have vowed to never get a cat (or dog).
posted by wachhundfisch at 4:52 AM on April 21


Yeah we love cats, our son LOOOOVES cats, but the lil’ monsters we have are made to stay inside. We were watching a nest of bunnies in the yard, we found that they had left the nest one day and were happy - until we realized that an animal (likely a stray cat) had killed two of them and left them in the yard. It’s not that cats hunt, it’s that cats will also just kill for fun it seems. If the bunnies were eaten I’d be less sad, but senseless killing? I know 80% of cottontails don’t make it to adulthood but it’s still a hard thing for a 10 year old to see.

Indoor cats live longer, are healthier, and don’t end up on a poster stuck to a telephone pole reading “have you seen me” because I cannot imagine how sad my son would be if his beloved kitty went missing, and we know damn well there are hungry foxes and coyotes roaming the alleys in our urban neighborhood.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:42 AM on April 21


I hate this 'killer' framing. If you want to see the predatory animal that is responsible for 99.9% of native animal deaths including the ongoing extinction of innumerable species just look in the goddamn mirror.
posted by um at 5:53 AM on April 21 [11 favorites]


My fur baby survived a harrowing youth on the streets of Chinatown. She seems fairly content four years in to being a pampered and spoiled indoor princess. Certainly in the city. But at our place in the middle of the woods, where we are spending months apparently, she sits at the glass doors staring out in wonder at the animals and birds. And sometimes tensing up and half-lunging at the chipmunks through the glass.

Still I think she’d be afraid to make a run for it, and she’s smart as we have coyotes everywhere around here. And wild turkeys who probably don’t fear a slightly zaftig city cat. And if she actually got out I think her urban outdoor feral upbringing wouldn’t be much use, and her desire for freeze dried chicken treats would bring her back.

I hope. We don’t let her out and don’t plan to. We have a wild kingdom of animals around our place (several acres of woods and a creek m will do that) and they have a hard enough time with the coyotes. We want her and them to live long lives.

My theory is former ferals do fine indoors because they think they’ve died and gone to cat heaven after life on the mean streets.
posted by spitbull at 6:09 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Ah, science journalism: From the NCSU link "The study showed that house cats killed an average of 14.2 to 38.9 prey per 100 acres, or hectare, per year."

A hectare is about two and a half acres
posted by etherist at 7:06 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


I hate this 'killer' framing. If you want to see the predatory animal that is responsible for 99.9% of native animal deaths including the ongoing extinction of innumerable species just look in the goddamn mirror.

Takes one to know one.
posted by flabdablet at 7:07 AM on April 21


Also the range of prey killed per hectare per year per cat is so wide because they applied a fudge factor "Other studies estimate that cats kill, but don’t bring home, 1.2–3.3 prey for each prey they do bring home". They asked cat owners to estimate how many prey their cats brought home per month, then multiplied x12 and xFudgeFactor
posted by etherist at 7:15 AM on April 21


"Humans kill more stuff than cats so we shouldn't care about this particular invasive species" is a weird argument. We also kill more stuff than covid-19, potato blight, or SUVs but we do what we can. And keeping a cat indoors is so trivially easy compared to the return.
posted by Justinian at 7:36 AM on April 21 [16 favorites]


I have a cat that visits occasionally, particularly early in the morning, and it stares at me through the fence.

Late one evening I heard a scuffling outside my back door, so I took my torch and had a look to see if it was there. I couldn't see anything really except a movement of shrubbery, so I did my best tch tch tch good cat noise that I could to try and entice it over. There was a scrambling on the fence and a patter of feet. Cool, I thought.

At which point the fox that I'd attracted got startled with my torch-light and leapt almost into my face.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 9:50 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Humans kill more stuff than cats so we shouldn't care about this particular invasive species" is a weird argument. We also kill more stuff than covid-19, potato blight, or SUVs but we do what we can.

- "cataboutism?"
posted by etherist at 10:36 AM on April 21 [9 favorites]


My cat is an indoor cat, but I let him go out in the backyard with me. Gives him a chance to get outside and stalk things, but no real chance to kill anything. The birds can see him from a mile away and they're too smart to let him get close. Except the blue jays, who are so smart they sit just out of range and mock him.
posted by InfidelZombie at 10:47 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Look, cats are carnivores with highly-honed hunting instincts. It's just dumb to pretend they aren't killing the neighborhood wildlife. My neighbor's white Persian cat ("Precious," gag me) lies under my bird feeder but knows to haul ass if I come out the front door.

I keep my cat George indoors because he'll live longer that way. We got George at the shelter, where he was picked up as a stray, complete with a variety of infections, scars, and parasites. He has tried to get out many times. We watch him closely.

We have coyotes and foxes in our neighborhood that have been seen, photographed, and reported in hot pursuit of cats. And, of course, people drive through there like their asses are on fire. No, my cat stays inside for his own good. The local rabbits, birds, and et cetera are happy about it too.
posted by corvikate at 11:17 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


"Humans kill more stuff than cats so we shouldn't care about this particular invasive species" is a weird argument. Yes it certainly is a weird argument but I haven't seen it here.

Catio for cat enrichment.
posted by Pembquist at 6:57 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Average lifespan of an outdoor cat is three years. Average lifespan of an indoor cat is fourteen to fifteen years. Keeping your cat indoors is not just good for wildlife, it's good for your cat.
What schroedinger said.

That said, some breeds find indoor life difficult. My cat Gabby was half-Abbysinian and that made opening any door always problematic -- he was primed to bolt. But he always returned.

Once he got out a back door to the basement of one fourplex where we lived and I returned to find a headless rat in my bedroom. The head was in the very center of an oriental rug in the living room, staring buck toothed up at the ceiling.

Later I moved to the third floor of brick apartment house on Summit with a door to a hallway. And there, too, he disappeared. I totally freaked, calling his name, opening cabinets and moving furniture, looking through the closets. I feared he'd gotten out in the hall and thence to the stairs and then out. I was in despair.

Then I went to the refrigerator and looked up and there he was sitting in the Egyptian pose -- front legs straight, tail curled around his paws -- staring down at me with an expression of mild concern.

He lived to be 17 despite any number of veterinary issues, settling down in his dotage. I would sit on the floor in front of the sofa and he would curl up on it behind me, stretch out his neck and rest his head on my shoulder and just purr.

They are complicated beings. Killers they may be but delightful companions as well. Which require a lot of well rewarding work.
posted by y2karl at 9:56 PM on April 21 [5 favorites]


Letting your cat outside has a different context now that house cats can test positive for the virus. Don't let them, or you catch corona!
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:05 AM on April 23


Not very likely, all things considered.
posted by y2karl at 2:36 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


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