Example of how a journalist carelessly distorts information on domestic and feral cat predation

I think that this is important. I have been digging around because I know that journalists writing for respected websites including news media website often distort the facts. They make claims and hard statements which simply are not true. They quote scientific reports but in doing so they actually misquote them. This is a very good example. There is a campaign going among some scientists and journalists to confine all domestic cats to the home and to kill all feral cats.

Don't trust newspaper journalists to get cat predation rates correct!
Don’t trust newspaper journalists to get cat predation rates correct! Image by MikeB.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The Guardian newspaper – Troy Vettese

Troy Vettese writing for The Guardian described as the “news website of the year” (incorrect in my view as it is far too biased) states that “Cats have extinguished 63 species worldwide”. A dramatic statement. A bold statement. My first thought was: is he correct?

Mr Vettese is an environmental historian at the European University Institute. He has written a book called Half-Earth Socialism.

Let’s analyse his statement. It comes from a study which has been quoted in other studies. The study is called “Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss” [link]. The authors of the study do not state that cats have extinguished 63 species worldwide. What they claim is far more subtle and nuanced. It is this nuanced approach which Mr Vitesse has trampled all over in his carelessness.

The researchers say that “Cats [are linked] to 63 extinctions”. Note the word “linked”.

They also state that there is difficulty in “attributing causation and species declines and extinctions”. They say is that it is difficult to attribute one predator like a cat or a rodent to the decline and extinction of a certain species of bird for example. It is hard to find hard data which is why the report is more nuanced than the report of Mr Vettese.

They go on to state that in terms of reptiles, cats made a 50% contribution to the extinction of a species meaning there were other animals including humans I presume involved as well. And in terms of mammals upon which cats prey, they contribute between 50% and 76% of the extinction of certain species. With respect to birds, they contribute about three quarters towards the extinction of certain species (usually island-based species). In none of the cases of extinction can cats be attributed alone to the extinction of any species within the category birds, mammals or reptiles.

And yet Mr Vettese states that the cat extinguished 63 species which states that alone the cat extirpated (completely destroyed) 63 species across these categories. That is completely incorrect and it needs to be stated which is why I am stating it in this article.

I have singled out this journalist as a good example but there are many others. And you have to go back to the main study itself which is based upon other studies in which there are estimated predation rates. Those studies will of themselves be rather dubious or at least some of them will.

And therefore, you get a gradual distortion of estimates becoming fact which is then re-quoted by other journalists who are in a rush and who are also careless. This is highly unfair on the domestic and feral cat and leads to animal abuse and cruelty.

It’s like in Australia they don’t know how many feral cats they are but they say that the feral cat has killed so many billions of animals. How can they estimate the predation rate if they don’t know the number of predators?

Some articles on cats preying on birds:

Cat predation worries many

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To rephrase the title, you might ask the following question: "Do well-fed domestic cats hunt as much and with the ...
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In the modern world, as the pampered domestic cat is provided with wet cat food from pouches or dry cat ...

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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