Your kitty and bullfrogs: deadly predators

According to recent news reports, Twin Cities’ cat lovers are objecting to local rules requiring cats to be leashed or otherwise controlled when outside, citing what they say is tabby’s natural desire to be free of household confinement.

But the outdoors may prove deadly to wildlife — and to the kitty.

Despite domestication, cats have retained their natural hunting instinct and are responsible for killing hundreds of millions of songbirds every year in the United States.

In Minnesota, an estimated 3.5 million pet cats may take more than 35 million birds and as many as 65 million small mammals. Feral cats kill even more.

But in the outdoors, cats (even dogs) are increasingly vulnerable to a predator that few may expect: coyotes.

“The public has no idea how many coyotes are around them,” said Jim Lawrence, owner of Catch ’em 4 U Wildlife Control. Lawrence said coyote populations have increased significantly in urban areas over the last 20 years, and pets are easy prey for them.

“We hear more and more reports of pets being taken by coyotes,” said Lori Naumann with the nongame wildlife office of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Coyotes generally prowl at night when few people see them, and that’s when pets are especially vulnerable.

Lawrence said that coyotes are territorial and will seek to keep other canines, including dogs, away. In springtime, he said, denning coyotes are especially aggressive and will attack during the daytime, even when humans are around.

Naumann said that household cats that are kept inside have no natural desire to go out, but outside they are vulnerable to a variety of dangers including disease and cars.

Naumann added that well-fed domestic cats kill birds and other wildlife for pleasure.

A University of Wisconsin study gives a broader perspective: “Worldwide, cats may have been involved in the extinction of more bird species than any other cause, except habitat destruction.” The University of Florida Conservation Clinic, in a report to the Fish and Wildlife Service, estimated that a free-roaming cat kills 100 mammals and birds per year.

Naumann said that more recently the DNR has become aware of a new and unexpected danger to birds — bullfrogs.

She said large bullfrogs from Texas are sold at some pet and landscape stores to be kept in backyard ponds. The frogs, that can weigh up to a pound, have voracious appetites and are known to take birds.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by John Farrell on 01/02/2008 - 11:23 am.

    A cat could be kept even safer inside a kennel. Or completely immobilized. But maybe it’s worth the danger to the cat to have a chance to play outside, to chase birds, or mice or insects, and to really enjoy life.

    The fact that coyotes kill cats or cats kill birds is called nature. It’s not the job of humans to manage it – as global warming shows, we’re lousy at it anyway.

  2. Submitted by James Nordgaard on 01/02/2008 - 02:11 pm.

    If this is supposed to be a “science” article, I think you should be a little more careful about the numbers and assertions and quotes you throw out. Or maybe I should say, not utterly careless. The quote you attribute to a U of W “study” about extinctions appears to be a line from an general audience article from their extension office, with no attribution to it. The line itself seems to so wildly speculative, that I can’t imagine any real scientific study that could possibly support such an assertion.

    As for the number of birds killed by cats, this does appear to come from a U of W “study.” But that study, as close to I can make out, is nothing more than a “back of an envelop” calculation in an article in the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine (“On the Prowl” 20(6):4-8). That is not scientific study. Don’t get me wrong, the number could be right, or could even be higher. I just bristle whenever I see science articles were journalists throw out numbers and assertions (actually opinions) and represent them as facts, or scientific data.

    As for keeping cats indoors, I agree that is better for cats, and most are quite happy indoors, especially if they weren’t allowed to roam when young. I think many more cats are killed by cars than coyotes.

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