TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Imagine the most dangerous predator you can, a species that kills as many as 16 billion birds and small mammals a year, is considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as one of the 100 worst invasive animals and has caused the extinction of 65 different species. Well, this predator is real, and it lives in the homes of more than 1 out of 3 American households.
Domestic cats, wonderful pets and loving companions that they may be, can be a major threat to the natural world. Researchers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute looked at previous studies on domestic cat population sizes and predator behavior from across the United States. They estimated that free-roaming cats kill between 1.3 and four billion birds and between 6.3 and 12.3 billion small mammals, such as mice and rabbits annually. Additionally, based on data from Australia and New Zealand, they estimate as many as 1.1 billion reptiles and amphibians could be falling prey to felines as well. This is of particular concern at Travis Air Force Base, California, as the federally threatened California Tiger Salamander uses the many vernal pools on base, particularly around the Castle Terrace housing subdivision.
While feral cats, who lack an owner and must fend for themselves, are the biggest menace to the wildlife around our homes, cats with owners still account for over 30 percent of all wildlife depredations.
So what can you do? Get rid of your pet? Outlaw cats (which some conservationists in New Zealand proposed in 2013)? Of course not! Cats make wonderful companions, but if you share your home with one, it’s recommended you not let it outside unsupervised. Most cats can live perfectly happy and fulfilling lives indoors. Regularly playing with your pet stimulates them and simulates their natural hunting instinct. If you really don’t want to keep your pet cooped up, many cats will take to leash training. Other ways of bringing the outdoors to your cat include building a cat patio, or “catio,” growing pots of special cat grass for your pet to munch on or putting up bird feeders for the cats to watch from the safety of a window.
Now, maybe you are thinking that you would not mind fewer sparrows and rats in your neighborhood. Understandable, though cats can eat just about any critter they can get their paws on. You know who else isn’t a picky eater? Coyotes. Many a pet owner has let their cat out to hunt only for Puss to become the hunted.
Cats can also become sick by eating things they should not. Many people use poison bait to control mice around their property and if a cat consumes one of these sick mice, they can themselves become poisoned. Even if your cat does manage to escape, zoonotic parasites like rabies and fleas can still be transmitted to your pet, and then onto you and your family. “Cat Scratch Fever” is more than just an old song.
Cats have been vilified many times throughout history, from being considered witches’ familiars to being in league with the devil. That is not what this article is trying to do. Cats make great pets, but can cause problems for local wildlife. They can both harm and be harmed by their environment, so please, consider not letting your cat out unsupervised. You will be protecting your cat, the natural community here at Travis AFB, and ultimately, yourself.