Friday, August 10, 2012

Is My Cat Killing Endangered Species?

In response to my previous post arguing against keeping cats indoors for their own welfare, a commenter brought up the other main argument for keeping cats indoors - predation of endangered species. I will discuss that now.

Firstly, this argument only applies to a subset of cats. Not all housecats are interested and/or capable enough to hunt wild prey. The article I found on cats' behavior outdoors found that only 30% of outdoor-roaming housecats kill prey. Stray/feral cats are actually a far bigger concern when it comes to predation of endangered species, because they must hunt to survive.

But I happen to know that Katrina is part of the subset that hunts. I have witnessed many successful hunts on her part, both of rodents and birds. In fact, somewhere I have a video of her playing with a bird after having broken its' wing. She used to feed our dog wild prey, and scarcely show any interest in cat food during the summertime.

So, we live in southeastern Saskatchewan. Are there any endangered species in our area that look like they could be prey for Katrina?

Well, here's a list of Canadian endangered species. I cross off the extinct/extirpated ones, because there no longer are any members of those species in Canada (extinct means gone worldwide, extirpated means gone in this region but surviving elsewhere). So, down to the endangered species:

Of the mammals, most are obviously too large for my cat (she'd be prey for a cougar, not kill it herself) but she could probably kill a Vancouver Island Marmot. Except it's only wild in the mountains of Vancouver Island, so cross that off.

Among birds, most are again too big for her. (She is no threat to a whooping crane.) Even Eskimo Curlew and Northern Bobwhite are probably too big for her to kill. An Acadian Flycatcher is definitely something she'd consider prey, but it's a Maritime bird (even though it's not actually Acadian). Loggerhead Shrike, though a bit big, is possible, but it's only endangered in the eastern provinces - overall population is Least Concern. (They are apparently vicious little birds, impaling their prey on thorns or barbed wire because it lacks the talons of larger birds of prey.) Henslow's Sparrow is definitely cat prey, but again, it's an Ontario bird. Sage Thrasher also looks like something my cat might eat, and it does live in Saskatchewan, but in western Saskatchewan.

Among amphibians, there's only the Blanchard Cricket Frog. While I've never seen my cat with a frog, they are cat prey - my ad used to have a cat who loved frog legs. But it's Canadian range is only in Ontario, on Pelee Island.

Among reptiles, none of the endangered ones live in our area. So no worries. Similarly, the endangered fish are all way too big, and I doubt my cat has ever fished anyway.

Now to the threatened species. Bison amd Caribou are obviously off the menu for a cat - not to mention the whales! Newfoundland Pine Marten is a bit big but possible, except it lives in Newfoundland. Pacific Water Shrew lives along the Pacific coast (shrews aren't preferred prey anyway, they make my cat sick to her stomach if she eats them, but she does kill shrews at times).

Among birds, Yellow-breasted Chat is a possibility - it's cat prey sized and lives in Saskatchewan - but it's only threatened in the Okanagan region of Ontario. Around here it's Least Concern. Marbled Murrelet is too big and it's range is further north anyway. Burrowing Owls do live around here, but they're too big and dangerous for a cat.

Oh, Loggerhead Shrike. Apparently it's threatened here, not Least Concern. OK. It is kind of big for a cat, but I should probably research that one more closely.

Baird's Sparrow is a prairie bird, but it's main threat is habitat loss - apparently cultivated land is a very non-preferred habitat for it. From what I know, my cat has only hunted cultivated land, because that's what she can readily walk to from home. Hooded Warbler is an Ontario bird. White-headed Woodpecker is too big for a cat.

She's not going to kill a rattlesnake, the only threatened reptile in my area, so cross off reptiles. The fish are all too big for her as well.

I'll have to take a closer look at Loggerhead Shrike and Baird's Sparrow. Those are the main species of concern here. Right now, I don't think she's much of a threat to them, but I need to learn more.

I've just sent an e-mail to the Saskatchewan Association for Conservation Officers, saying the following:

"I live in Weyburn, and I have an indoor-outdoor cat who is an accomplished predator (including killing birds). Since she greatly enjoys going outside and hunting, I don't want her to become an indoor cat, but I'm concerned about whether she may be hunting endangered or threatened species.

From what I can tell, both Loggerhead Shrike and Baird's Sparrow live in my area and are threatened species. Do you know if cats are a threat to those species? If so, are there things I can do - other than confining her indoors permanently, which would greatly reduce her quality of life - to minimize the danger my cat poses to them? For example, I've heard that in some regions you can minimize the threat of cat predation on endangered birds by confining the cat for a couple weeks during migration."

Let's see if they have more information.


Blogger Lindsay said...

OK, great!

I'd be interested to see what advice they have ... it'd be awesome if your cat can indeed roam free without posing any threat to sensitive bird populations.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Having cats roam is one major reason bird populations become sensitive! Cats in Australia are causing the extinction of species of mammals once thought to be safe. Along with birds and marsupials. It's a crisis, keep you cat indoors.

4:27 AM  

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