Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer


Scores of studies throw up scores of numbers: owned cats; cats kept indoors; feral cats running wild; the numbers of birds, small mammals and reptiles killed by the average cat. 

But birders and conservation organisations quote figures way below those suggested by such studies; even the researchers themselves often make a 10 or 20 per cent cut to ‘be on the safe side’, as if the scale is too much to believe. Cats in North America kill billions of birds, small mammals and reptiles: they can hardly not be of ecological significance. 

This book caused a furore when published in the US; some of the quoted studies proved explosive. Authorities mostly turn the other way. When a man shot a cat from a feral colony preying on endangered Piping Plovers, he was taken to court. As the cat was ‘unowned’ he was not guilty of a crime, but as a result the state changed the law to protect unowned cats. Piping Plovers could go extinct. 

There are many such stories in this brave, engaging and sympathetic book. It is not likely to be read cover to cover by cat lovers or those birders who won’t want to read about the devastating impact of cats worldwide, but it is a wide-ranging study of why nature matters to people and where we are headed. The authors quote the wholesale devastation of Florida by unrestrained development as a scary vision of the future, if we do not change our ways. 

All the arguments for and against cats and ways of dealing with them are thoroughly discussed. Keeping healthy, much-loved cats indoors seems to be the only answer. 

The book is extremely well written: a good, interesting, easy read despite the wealth of quoted statistics and studies. It is entirely free of sentiment or emotion – the facts speak for themselves. Yet they are hard to stomach: the authors suggest that even Audubon and the RSPB turn an almost blind eye to the problem, understandably to some extent, although the RSPB’s brilliant work farther from home – eradicating cats from Ascension Island, for example – is also properly acknowledged. Cats, home and away, present us with endless dilemmas. 

Written by: Rob Hume