Leading British Naturalist and Wildlife Presenter Chris Packham Changes Mind about Domestic Cat Predation

I’m returning to the perennial subject of domestic cat predation on wildlife and I am pleased to report that a study by the University of Reading found that two thirds of cats brought home no prey over a six-week period. Their study appears to have injected a bit of realism into this fraught discussion.

Chris Packham
Chris Packham

A leading wildlife presenter and naturalist, Chris Packham has agreed that…

“only a small percentage of domestic cats are rogues. It’s about one in 10 which regularly takes wildlife.”

He made these comments when speaking before the BBC’s new Autumnwatch series. At one stage Packham had been incensed for years and demanded a night curfew for domestic cats because he believed that they were decimating British wildlife. The wildlife presenter began campaigning for a curfew after a report concluded that the 10 million cats in Britain killed 275 million animals a year including about 55 million birds.

I don’t know which earlier research study he was referring to but no doubt it was one of many which over the years I have come to understand are misleading. I have said this over and over again: many studies about domestic cat predation particularly on birdlife are inaccurate because they are guesstimates at best based upon extrapolating data from a small sample in a certain area of Britain which is not a reliable way to do research. It leads to misconceptions about domestic cat behaviour and it is frankly very damaging to the public profile of the domestic outdoor cat.

It is nice to know that a person with a high profile and a voice who can change public opinion to a certain extent has acknowledged that most domestic cats are entirely innocent and do not prey on songbirds or other garden wildlife. It is nice to be able to rectify misleading information and to do justice to our domestic cats.

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Monty’s New and Improved Cat Enclosure

By Ruth Young

Monty had some adventures this summer, but not of the kind I would like to see repeated. My husband and I spent some time beefing up security in his cat enclosure in order to better keep him in and other cats out. Since cats cannot get over a fence topper placed at a 45 degree angle, we created some of these with some thin landscaping poles, plastic ties and green chicken mesh. We cut the mesh in half and Jeff installed the orange poles to tie it to. We also put a sturdy wire mesh in the shape of a cone part way up any tree near the fence.

Monty’s New and Improved Cat Enclosure
Monty’s New and Improved Cat Enclosure

Monty is not happy about his movements being restricted. He used to love to climb some of the trees near the fence. But we left him some other trees and all the trees have an area near the bottom on which he can exercise his claws. The metal shed he used to love to walk on top of is gone. We cut it apart and I took it to be recycled. They gave me fourteen dollars for it!

Monty’s New and Improved Cat Enclosure
Monty’s New and Improved Cat Enclosure

Without the shed the yard seems more spacious, but Monty seems a little hesitant to climb the tree that was next to the shed without the shed being there. Perhaps it just seems higher.The other thing we did was to block any and all possible exits through gaps in the fence. We think Monty had actually escaped through a hole at the bottom of the fence rather than by going over. While we were working he came out and walked straight toward that hole. Jeff covered it with the mesh using a staple gun. Monty tried to breach the hole, and when he could not he walked away with his tail down.

Monty’s New and Improved Cat Enclosure

Since adding the fence toppers, coning the trees and blocking holes in the fence we have not seen any strange cats in our yard. We have also not seen as many rabbits or possums, which is a good thing on both counts. Monty still has access to lots of birds, mice and chipmunks. He has suddenly turned into a furry killing machine. But at least his activities are now restricted to his own yard.

Monty’s New and Improved Cat Enclosure
Monty’s New and Improved Cat Enclosure

Over the summer, more than once I caught Monty outside of his enclosure and he was not easily coaxed back into his own yard. I got scratched pretty seriously in one instance. He seemed completely wild and attacked me as I came near him. I grasped him firmly and carried him into the house, dropping him onto the floor. He didn’t even look like himself, his fur was so puffed up. I thought in that moment that perhaps this was not Monty at all, but that I had grabbed some random feral cat and had just thrown him into my house. But the cat walked right to Monty’s room where his food dish is kept, so it was in fact Monty who had behaved like a wild animal, growling at me and attacking me. It’s like his adventure outside of his enclosure had restored him to his feral state, bringing out the little wild kitty in him.

He also had gotten dirty under my car, so when I returned home later I held him over the sink and washed the greasy spot at the base of his tail. I poured warm water on him and all he did was clutch me a little tighter. I dried him with a towel and he just meowed a little with impatience, but let me do what needed to be done. I don’t understand how one minute he could have been completely wild and just a short time later he would let me hold him and pour water on him with barely any reaction.

But it was after that incident that I knew I needed to find a way to make sure he did not roam. If he could so forget himself, would he forget to return home? Would he revert to being wild and not come back? My sister didn’t think so, since Monty does love a full food bowl. But what if he got lost and didn’t remember to come home until it was too late and he could not find his way back? What if he got hurt by fighting with another animal or hurt by a mean human who didn’t like cats on his property? We had to take action.

The other reason I wanted to improve security in his yard is because of his altercation with a cat early in the summer. He really injured the other cat. There was nothing I could do for that cat, who quickly retreated over the fence, and I felt somewhat responsible since Monty’s enclosure did not prevent her from entering. I also felt responsible for his roaming because I had started throwing his kills over the fence onto the yard of the vacant house next door. No one lives there. And I was really tired of burying things.

Honestly, living with Monty is like living with a furry little serial killer and it’s my job to dispose of the bodies. I fear that Monty saw me flinging his chipmunk over the fence.

I had to make a decision about Monty’s enclosure as to whether it is our responsibility to completely protect local wildlife from him. This would involve a very different model– a smaller area, enclosed on all sides and on top. This would provide him with an outdoorsy experience, but would severely curtail his freedom. I understand that some people feel cat predation of birds and other small animals is a problem. But for me, given a question of a good quality of life for Monty over the chance to save a few creatures from his clutches, I have to side with Monty. I have to allow him to be what he was created to be. I do attempt to scare away his prey when I can, but once he got a bird in his mouth while he was on his leash! I started out putting him on a leash when he was a kitten, thinking that would keep him and other animals safe. He was so quick that before I had seen the bird, he had it. That one did get away, because Monty let it go in order to have the fun of catching it again, and I was able to hold him back. I don’t like that because of me, he hunts for sport and rarely eats his kills. But it is because of me that he is alive. Feral cats live about one to two years tops around here. Monty is six.

I have managed to save animals from him on other occasions by alerting them to his presence. Monty probably thinks I am a very stupid cat who cannot hunt. Only once did I try to facilitate his hunting and that was when he brought a mouse into the house, let it go, and I could not find it. We hunted for that mouse together. I also did open the back patio door for him once when a chipmunk was coming right up onto the step by the door, shaking his tail at Monty as if to say, “Ha, ha, you can’t get me!” I think the chipmunks have figured out Monty can’t get out when the door is closed and they probably routinely torment him this way. I felt anger at the chipmunk for teasing Monty, so I opened the door and Monty bolted out after him. The chipmunk escaped with his life, but barely.

Fences, toppers for fences and even complete enclosures can be purchased online. For those not able to construct something themselves, it is very possible to purchase what is needed to create an enclosure for cats that provides safety while giving the cat some freedom to explore the outdoors. Although I know it is sometimes necessary, I don’t like the idea of indoor only cats, because I would not want to live my whole life indoors. Monty, as an ex-feral cat, is naturally going to desire time outdoors. I applaud efforts people make to give their cats the outdoor experience in a safe way. I think it is important to remember two things about our cats: They are absolutely smarter than us and will find ways to outsmart us and do what they want to do. They are also little idiots. They don’t know the dangers of humans who can’t be trusted, automobiles that aren’t going to stop for them, things outside they absolutely must not try to eat or drink and that if they fight with other animals they absolutely can lose the fight and get hurt. Just as we wouldn’t hand our fourteen year old the key to car because he asks, we don’t have to give our cat every desire of his heart if we know that doing so puts him at risk.

I do feel sad for Monty that he can’t climb every tree in the yard anymore. But is it not normal in life to have things we once enjoyed doing no longer be available to us? They become happy memories. I will never again get to push the merry-go-round at recess and listen to the kids shriek with delight when I got it going really fast. I’m never again going to climb up that huge pine tree in my parent’s ravine, because although I gained two inches in height since age 13, the tree grew so that the branches are completely out of my reach. Also the top of it snapped off in a tornado. My days of climbing up and standing in upmost branches of that tree are long past. So believe me when I say that I know how Monty feels to be denied access to his favorite tree. I feel his loss, because I know that loss and a million others like it. Sometimes new pleasures replace the old, but sometimes not. I cannot, in trying to give Monty a good life, make the world anything different than what it is. It is not always fun. It is not always perfectly safe. I can only do my best to give him both fun and safety, because I love him.

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Machete-Wielding Serial Cat Killer’s Existence Realised after Seven Years

For about seven years it appears that a serial cat killer has been going about his business with a machete in south-east London, UK. Only now have people realised that the reports of butchered, missing and injured cats are probably linked. Despite that, the local police force have decided that the most recent victim of this serial cat killer is an “isolated incident”. They are however going to speak with the RSPCA in their investigations. This is fortunate because an RSPCA spokeswoman said that their charity is investigating and they may come to the conclusion that a serial cat killer is at work. Although at present they indicate that the injuries to the cats could have been caused by animals rather than humans.

Serial cat killer with machete
Cat owner pleading for assistance to find her cat lost possibly to this serial cat killer.

I think that assessment is incorrect because they have had calls about what appear to be machete attacks on cats. They will be looking at this evidence to see if there has been animal cruelty.

The RSPCA’s scepticism appears to be ill-founded. This is because there is strong evidence that up to 25 cats have been deliberately killed or injured in the past two years alone in the area. This information comes from the co-founder of the South Norwood Animal Rescue and Liberty group, Ms Rising.

She has reported that cats have been discovered with their tails cut off or their bellies slit. There are vertical slits to their stomachs and missing legs. Sometimes the only remains of the cats are the tails. She also said that this had been going on for a long time and only now have people started to join up the dots to possibly come to the conclusion that this is the work of a single person.

Ms Rising said that:

“The killer seems to be putting the bodies back where the owner lives. Some of them have been decapitated, some have had their tails removed and some had both their heads and tails removed.”

Ms Rising believes that a single individual is behind these gruesome killings and injuries to the cats in the area. She believes that the serial cat killer wishes to advertise his work; he wants people to know about his presence.

One of the most recent cat killings is a beheading. The body of a cat belonging to 47-year-old Wayne Bryant was found in woodland. The head was missing and he believes that it has been kept as a trophy by the killer.

I hope that the police can join up the dots. Judging by the information that I have read it seems more likely that this is the work of one person rather than animals. I have never heard of wild predators in London doing this. The only predator in London is the fox and my experience informs me that foxes rarely attack cats.

It can be an effort to get the police to take action as they normally wish to minimise their workload which is probably why they have initially assessed this to be a single, one-off incident which they will no doubt wish to kick into the long grass. Investigating a seven-year span of serial cat killing will take a lot more time and effort. I hope that they find the commitment to investigate this properly.

I shall be provocative. If people are sure that a machete is being used, might that indicate that a black man is involved? Machetes are the default weapon in large parts of Africa.

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African Farmers Poisoning Lions Backfires in Jeopardising Human Health with Anthrax

We know that farmers, specifically cattle herders, use poison to kill predators such as the African lion. They do this by lacing the carcass of a cow with poison. This can have the effect of wiping out a whole pride of lions but in addition it also kills the vultures which feed on the carcasses of poisoned lions.

Ruppell's vulture
Rüppell’s vulture one of the 4 vultures species at critical risk. Photo: courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Almost half the vultures in Africa are on the brink of extinction simply because they scavenge on meat which has been poisoned by farmers.

Because vultures’ digestive tracts are extremely acidic their digestive system kills the spores of certain diseases such as anthrax which infest the carcasses of dead animals on the African Savannah.

This helps to contain diseases such as anthrax and therefore the vulture provides a service to humans. There is the occasional outbreak of anthrax which kills humans. The disease is passed to humans through contact with animals or eating infected meat.

You could argue that this is an example of “what goes around comes around”. Carelessly poisoning precious wild species to protect cattle can, I suppose, be understood because farmers are desperate to survive in a difficult environment but the consequences often go far beyond those envisaged by the perpetrators. It is an ignorant and crude way to proceed.

There are many alternatives to poisoning lions which is itself a species rapidly heading towards endangerment and in the long-term possible extinction.

It is up to local governments or the national government to find alternatives which protect both cattle and lions allowing both to live in relative harmony. This will entail the commitment and involvement of cattle herders and farmers and it will involve an educational programme.

Scaring lions away, simplistic as it sounds, is effective and is a good alternative to killing them. This is just one example.

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91-year-old American Woman Made Purses Out Of Neighbors’ Missing Cats

This is surely an example of a complete lack of morality and sensitivity. It is shocking but it is not surprising. This gruesome story unfolded in Grand Haven, Michigan, USA.

Note: for the record, this is not an example of “America bashing”. It just so happens that the woman is American and that is stated in the title because this website is international and I have to identify the country. It could just as well have occurred anywhere else. Every country has similar examples.

She made purses from domestic cat pelts
She made purses from domestic cat pelts

The woman’s name is Marjorie Reynolds and she has been arrested. She was just an ordinary neighbor quietly going about her business, waving to and no doubt occasionally chatting to her neighbors. However, behind closed doors macabre events were taking place at her hands.

The first purse that she made out of a dead cat encouraged her to carry on because she thought it had gone quite well. She was enjoying her hobby of arts and crafts. She probably felt that there was a natural resource on her doorstep, namely the domestic cats of her neighbors. She probably felt that the domestic cat has such a lovely pelt and that it should be “harvested”. This is an extension of what happens, in any case, thousands of times every year in the USA which is to commercially exploit the skin and fur of the American bobcat or the Canada lynx. Perhaps she got the idea from these commercial enterprises which harvest and exploit these beautiful wild cats.

In any case, Reynolds said that cats belonging to her neighbours would visit her house and she would feed them. Then when one of these cats died she felt that the cat’s pelt should not be wasted and made a purse out of it.

The Michigan Police Department’s spokesperson said:

“She said the first handbag turned out so beautiful, that she kind of got hooked on it…”

The question is whether she killed her neighbour’s cat in order to carry on and make more beautiful purses. In all 19 cats went missing and were found dead in her home. They were skinned and cured and some of the pelts were made into purses.

Without wishing to pre-empt the way this allegedly criminal matter pans out, it would seem to me to be almost certain that she had decided to progress from skinning a dead cat to killing and then skinning the remaining cats because she was so pleased with her first effort.

It just seems so utterly immoral and totally lacking in sensitivity towards others. It is said that she has a history of dementia. Her family state that she has mental issues which have played a role in this matter. She certainly has mental issues but we should be careful not to excuse her actions because of dementia. I don’t think dementia leads to this sort of behaviour. What causes a sort of behaviour is, as mentioned, and immoral attitude.

It also seems to me that this is an extension of the devaluing of the outside and sometimes stray or feral cat. They are seen as animals of little value which people can use and abuse. Finally what she has been doing is happening right now in the thousands in China. Painful as it is, we should not forget that. The fur in your gloves could well be domestic cat fur.

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What is this cat doing?

What is this cat doing?

Taking a common sense viewpoint it looks like the cat is checking whether the cat that he sees in the mirror is him. He waves his forelegs around to see if they move in the mirror. That’s what it looks like but no doubt he is doing something else.

The video begs the question whether he realises it is him in the mirror. Experts say cats are not self-conscious.

The video paid of the video maker’s tuition fees so it did pretty well.

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Is your Cat at Risk of Becoming A TV Addict? Our Kitten is!

I must admit that I over the years I have become addicted to several television programs. “Scandal”, “The Good Wife”, and “Sister Wives” and “My Cat from Hell” are a few of my all-time favorites.

Cat watching television
Cat watching television

While my husband Marty and I always enjoy an evening of what we consider worthwhile programming, unfortunately I am afraid that Edgar Allen Poe, our six-month old kitten, may have caught the “watching TV bug” also.

At first it began rather innocently when Edgar Allen Poe was hanging out with my husband who was watching a basketball game. The moving ball caught Edgar Allen’s eye and he leapt off the couch, his attention riveted to the screen; following all the action. In fact, a couple of times he even attempted to grab at the ball.

Then, a few weeks ago we were watching a re-run of Jackson Galaxy’s “My Cat from Hell”. Edgar Allen was fast asleep curled up on the sofa, and Sir Hubble Pinkerton was snoozing away on my lap. But peaceful nap-time was quickly interrupted when one of the cats Jackson was working with began to growl, hiss and shriek.

Cat watching television
Photo credit: Flickr User: Patrick Briggs

Hearing the loud sounds of an angry kitty, Edgar Allen instantly awakened and jumped off the couch. The tip of his tail was swishing back and forth and his ears were pricked forward. He crouched low to the floor wiggling his hind end- ready to pounce on some yet unseen intruder. He kept looking around to find the cat to no avail; but all of a sudden the upset cat on the TV screen caught his eye.

I have never in my life seen a cat attack a TV screen before. But I guess there is a first time for just about everything. Edgar Allen started growling at the feline image, and whacking at it with great animation. But Edgar Allen became very confused when the image of the cat disappeared from sight. He looked up at me with his big green eyes as if to say “What happened to that nasty cat?”

To learn more about whether cats truly can distinguish images on television or if Edgar Allen’s ability was a quirk after extensive research I ran across a fascinating article by Auckland Veterinarian, Dr Alex Melrose, BVSc, and MRCVS. According to Dr. Melrose, both cats (and dogs) are able to take in a great deal of visual information while watching television; and what they are seeing doesn’t have to be about animals. The images just have to be moving.

What I found most reassuring in the article is that felines are able to process visual information far more quickly than dogs or humans.

What’s more, according to the results of studies cited by Dr. Melrose; since the speed of the pictures on the old, standard 50 Hz televisions are too slow for cats to “compute”, they can get bored easily. It’s a good thing that we have a high definition LCD screen so that Edgar Allen Poe can become even more delighted with the DVD of birds and wildlife that we bought for him strictly for stimulation and entertainment. I just hope that Edgar Allen won’t start hogging the remote!

Do you think your cats do enjoy watching TV? You can check this out by showing them this wildlife video that’s replete with enticing sounds, uploaded to YouTube by cat lover, Paul Dinning.

Did your cats react to the video? Let us know in a comment.

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Owning a Cat Can Tell Others a Lot about You But There is Bias

Once again I come to a discussion about the sort of person who likes cats. There are quite a lot of studies on the subject. I think that there is an overall slight bias against the sort of person who likes domestic cats and the reason is this. The overall culture of humankind and that which dictates how the planet is managed comes from the ambitious, testosterone-fuelled, male of the human species. And in general science is managed by men rather than women therefore studies are often generated by men rather than women.

How good a cat owner are you?
Jay Leno

So, science believes that owning a cat tells us a lot about the personality, health and dating life of the typical cat owner. Studies have found that cat owners are usually introverted compared to people who own dogs. They also tend to be more concerned with “expedience” rather than following the rules. This may be a by-product of one of the more outstanding and praiseworthy aspects of being a cat owner namely that they are, in general, more intelligent than dog owners and I presume other pet owners. They tend towards free thinking and not following rules.

On the downside (and there appear to be more downsides than upsides) cat owners are likely to be fatter because they are more introverted than dog owners and therefore stay inside more often and of course dog owners go outside with their dogs for a walk.

As for the typical cat owners dating life, one study concluded that cat owners are about 33% more likely to live alone and 200% more likely to live in an apartment. That also links in, it seems to me, with the potential for cat owners to be more introverted and to be single women and therefore less likely to be living in a large house with a family but more likely to own an apartment (downsized).

However, as mentioned above, I get the feeling that it is men who are judging women when you read about the personality and characteristics of cat owners. There is almost a hint of misogyny in the descriptions of the typical cat owner.

In addition, men who like cats and look after cats are sometimes described as being gay or impliedly criticised in an underhand way. They are not manly enough for the top male human predator. Once again this hints, to me, that it is the stereotypical, male of the human species who is judging other men in a slightly detrimental way.

If it is true that there is this form of bias when discussions about the personality of cat owners are published then there may be a slight bias against cats as well. If there is a bias against cat owners being typically intelligent, independent females (unable to form relationships with men) then the cat, by association, is also likely to be looked upon in a slightly detrimental manner. The “package” – woman and cat – are being judged by men of a certain character. Where there is a war between the sexes, the domestic cat is sometimes the innocent bystander who can be unjustly victimized.

I am free thinking. My conclusions are thoughts garnered over a number of years. They are not facts. Often scientific studies should not be seen as facts either.

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