'Stone-cold serial killers': Domestic cats slaughter billions upon billions of animals in US every year

A new study has discovered cat kills exceed all prior estimates

They’re cuddly, adorable and the most reliably popular thing on the internet, but it turns out cats are also stone-cold serial killers.

A new study published by the journal Nature Communications has found that domestic cats slaughter billions of birds and small mammals in the US every year.

Scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the US Fish and Wildlife Service compiled nationwide data from a number of local surveys and pilot studies, to conclude that cats are responsible for the deaths of up to 3.7bn birds and 20.7bn small mammals every 12 months, including mice, voles, rabbits and shrews.

“The magnitude of wildlife mortality caused by cats that we report here far exceeds all prior estimates,” the study, which set out to estimate the number of animals killed as the result of human activity, concluded.

It positioned felines as the probable top human-linked threat to wildlife in North America. More birds and mammals die at the paws of cats than are killed by cars, chemicals or collisions with man-made structures.

The researchers estimated that US cat-owners account for around 84 million cats, which each kill between four and 18 birds per year, and between eight and 21 small mammals. However, the death counts racked up by domestic cats pales in comparison with that of feral cats, which the report suggests slay up to 46 birds and 338 small mammals each, annually. There are thought to be 30-80million such cats living wild in the US.

During an August 2012 study by the University of Georgia, researchers attached miniature video cameras to 60 cats to monitor their daily routines; they found that the felines typically spent one third of every day killing small animals. One of the new report’s authors, Dr Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, told NPR that he and his colleagues were stunned by the scale of the slaughter. Cats hunting, he said, “could be causing some wildlife populations to decline in some areas.”

The study recommends “conservation and policy intervention” in order to reduce the environmental impact of the bloodthirsty pets. Animal welfare groups advocate so-called trap-neuter-return (TNR) programmes: instead of being euthanized, feral cats are vaccinated, neutered and returned to the streets unable to reproduce. But conservationists claim this can exacerbate the problem by encouraging cat-owners to abandon unwanted cats to the growing number of outdoor cat colonies. The study found that TNR programmes are “potentially harmful to wildlife populations” because they leave so many murderous felines in the wild.

New Zealand economist and environmentalist Gareth Morgan has proposed more drastic measures. On his website garethsworld.com/catstogo, Mr Morgan claims, “That little ball of fluff you own is a natural born killer.” He urges cat owners to neuter their pets and resist the temptation to add any more to their households. He has also called on his fellow New Zealanders to set cat traps across the country to catch stray felines so they can be put down.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea