Cats: Friendly felines or silent killers?

A study found that free-ranging cats kill billions of birds and mammals every year.

Little Mittens or cuddly Coco may be a stone-cold killer, according to a new study.

The study, published Tuesday in "Nature Communications," analyzed the effect of domesticated cats on wildlife populations. After doing a systematic review of mortality caused by cats in the United States, the researchers said, "We estimate that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4 -3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals annually."

Mammal victims include mice and other rodents.

While most of the deaths can be attributed to strays, the findings still point to "substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought." The researchers said cats are likely "the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for U.S. birds and mammals."

According to the study, our fuzzy, purring friends have even contributed to the extinction of multiple wildlife species on islands.

CONSERVATION EFFORTS

The study concludes that some sort of conservation policy must go into effect to reduce the massive death toll from cats.

A simple solution could be just keeping a pet cat indoors, as pets kill far fewer mammals and birds. A man in New Zealand recently proposed a more extreme measure to rid the country of cats by neutering the pets and not replacing them when they die.

Pet cats present less of a challenge when it comes to conservation, though. Stray cats pose different challenges. Discovery reported that capture and sterilization programs for stray cats meet with varying degrees of success.

The Discovery article also pointed out that removing cats would not necessarily solve the problem of species extinction. In fact, according to the article, cats may actually be preying on other species that kill birds and other small mammals.

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