By Stuart R. Goldsby, Regional Hunter Education Coordinator
All cats, both feral and domestic, have an inherent skill to hunt and can play a predatory role in nature. Cats are carnivores and true hunters that have a predator-prey relationship with other animals. The term feral is merely an adjective we use to describe “kitty gone wild” – a cat recognized as a domesticated breed that has reverted to or was born into the wild.
House cats can act in a predatory manner much like a feral cat. These two types of cats have different lifestyles, but can act similarly toward prey animals. The kitty that sits quietly in your lap and gives the appearance of being totally innocent and has all its needs fulfilled will step outside and begin hunting from instinct. A cat born into the wild must hunt to survive. Totally natural -- there is nothing wrong with either of these actions; however the consequences of them must be understood.
There are thousands of feral cats living outside our back yards. They survive by preying on small animals and birds such as rabbit, squirrel, quail, songbirds, and many other species. Millions of dollars and countless hours are spent by man enjoying activities like small game hunting and wildlife watching. It is easy to conclude that these unwanted cats compete directly with man for a resource that is very valuable to us in a monetary and emotional way. They are also in direct competition for food with native species of predators such as the fox, bobcat, and raccoon. Each of these is far more important to the natural biotic community than feral cats.
House cats placed outside temporarily or those that live outdoors permanently can put undue pressure on wildlife populations in our back yard. As we place the cat outside on our way to work in the morning we may also put a food source out to attract species of songbirds or small mammals that have sensitive populations. These birds and mammals become prey to our house cat. That makes us responsible for possibly jeopardizing those sensitive members of our natural world.
As we allow the population of cats to go unchecked they continue to put pressure on wild species. Survival is difficult enough for small animals without having to deal with the added pressure of unwanted cats.
It is our responsibility to minimize the actions of feral cats and take corrective measures to reduce their populations. Spaying or neutering of pets can help to reduce future populations of unwanted cats and has been known to reduce the urge to hunt in some individual animals. Trapping and removing unwanted cats to shelters on a local level is an option that requires little effort and the results will be immediate for wildlife. Feeding wildlife in an area and in such a way to keep “tabby” from disturbing them will benefit the wildlife and continue to give you hours of pleasure.