(just not this one)
Yes, cats. Housecats and ex-housecats and feral cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds a year, and between 6.9 and 20.7 billion mammals. That stacks up to nearly 25 billion animals a year with the higher-end estimates. That is more animals than your brain can ever hope to adequately comprehend. And it makes cats pretty much the No. 1 threat to wildlife in the nation.
The numbers come from a new study just published in Nature Communications (pdf) that’s just waiting to spew controversy all over the place like so many rodent guts. The billions of mouse and rat corpses aren’t likely to get the tears flowing, but, as Jonathan Franzen eloquently portrayed in his Big American Novel Freedom, they’re killing birds, too. Threatened and endangered ones.
The American Robin, for instance, is a primo target, and the one of those most threatened by this nation of cat-killers. Cat killers like this:
That’s the lead image from the BBC’s story on the report, and I’m sharing it here because it just so happens to look exactly like my own cat (pictured above), which probably killed all kinds of vermin as a stray in Brooklyn before we took it in, but hasn’t managed to kill a single mouse, despite multiple tries, ever since. And she doesn’t ever go outside.
Which seems like a small part of the solution to this brewing storm (the rest of which is mass cat slaughter, but more on that in a moment)—in Freedom, the final pages are dedicated to the environmentalist-leaning protagonist’s sad quest to tame the neighborhood bird-hunters. Keep them inside, he exhorts, and of course they don’t.
And that surely echoes the incipient conversation cat lovers and conservationists are about to have with increasing vigor—it’s clear cats are a threat to American ecosystems everywhere, but whether we’re going to be able to muster the will to act is another story altogether.
Because this is a completely different frame than we’re used to approaching conservation issues from—the rote, time-tested environmentalist narrative posits that it’s the techno-industrial complex, ie, factories, power plants, big ag, logging operations, etc, that are dooming wildlife. Things that are relatively easy to demonize, especially compared to adorable household pets. This time, it’s not technology at all that threatens to vastly disrupt the natural order--it’s a primitive human behavior, it’s keeping cats around the house because we like them.
Which is also why nobody should expect this trend to shift much—everybody has an emotional affinity for cats (for evidence, I submit the Internet). Meanwhile, a few people kind of like birds (for evidence, I submit the box office yield for the birding film 'The Big Year'). And nobody seems likely to love the thus-far unspoken solution: big ugly stray cat culls. It’s the strays, after all, that kill the most—two to three times as much as the housecats. A 2010 study in Ecology and Society, allegedly the only to employ a model-based approach to determining the efficacy of feral cat management strategies, found that in any instance when there were more than 50 strays in a given region, the 'Trap/Euthanize' approach was preferable over the 'Trap/Neuter' approach. In other words, the only economically feasible way to mitigate this massive threat to wildlife is to kill a lot of cats, and nobody's going to want to hear anything about that. Good luck pushing the Mass Feline Murder bill through Congress about now.
But to save the birds, the integrity of our natural ecosystems, the American wild as it was (ish), we’re probably going to have to snuff out millions of cats. We should anyway, or, you heard the scientists--billions of animals die instead.
Just leave this ex-stray out of it, she's innocent, I swear, and she only has one tooth left anyway.