Cats Are Individualistic Predators
Navigating the issue of outdoor cats and predatory behavior is a complicated dance. People who keep outdoor cats want to give them freedom and the ability to live a “full” life, while wildlife advocates are strongly concerned with cats’ impact on bird populations. Indeed, the tension between these two positions is something we’ve explored in some depth at Faunalytics. In this study, researchers looked at the hunting habits of Felis catus, the ubiquitous house cat, to see if they have similar individualistic hunting habits to their larger relatives. “By understanding how cats hunt,” say the authors, “and the extent to which they show individuality in hunting behaviour, we can gain clearer insight into both management tactics and strategy.”
The exact impact of outdoor cats’ hunting habits is hard to quantify. Using a variety of methods with different samples, the researchers here tested several different hypotheses. They found that “house cats sometimes exhibit marked individual preferences” for certain types of prey. When this is the case, the cats hunt that prey “selectively and efficiently,” even when hunting in “low prey densities.” This means that if the preferred prey animals for individual cats are rare, localised, or threatened in some way, then predation by cats poses a more significant threat.
However, the task of identifying individual cat predators or the most sensitive species is a difficult one. The most important thing is for cat guardians and colony managers to simply be aware that cats show individual preferences and may target certain species of prey animals. From there, if “specialist” cats are suspected, specific management decisions can be made to mitigate the problem. For animal advocates, this relatively selective method may represent a more nuanced approach that seeks the best outcome for all animals involved.