'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
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?