I have changed my mind about bells on cat collars as a way to protect wildlife. It’s an imperfect method to protect birds and other wildlife from domestic cat predation but it’s better than nothing and it’s a very simple solution which might be more effective than many believe.
The general culture across the planet is to allow domestic cats outside without supervision. There is a backlash to that in some places because of the countless articles on the Internet about primarily birds being killed in the millions by domestic cat predation. Something needs to be done. Any solution will be imperfect because in practice it’s almost impossible to enforce any law to control and restrict cat ownership because of the enormous number of homes where there are domestic cats. There simply isn’t the police manpower or womanpower. 🤔
Imperfect but worth it
So we are looking at an imperfect method to help protect wildlife particularly birds. It should be something simple which can contribute to conservation and the cat collar with a bell, I think, might be the solution although it’s been pooh-poohed often enough on the Internet. They say it doesn’t work because cats find a way to stop the bell ringing when stalking prey.
There might be some truth in that but it depends on the individual cat. They are all different as we know. Some will be keen hunters and some not. Some will stop the bell ringing and some won’t. The bell will protect birds and other prey animals to an extent. To what extent?
Bells help protect wildlife
A study as long ago as 2001 can help provide an answer. 21 cat owners living in a 100 km² area around Carnforth, Lancashire, England participated in a study. Each one recorded dead prey animals delivered by their cat or cats to their homes over an eight week period. They followed three experimental schedules. Each one required their cat to have a bell on a collar for only half of the time.
During the four weeks that the cats wore a collar with a bell the average number of prey animals delivered by their cat to their owner was 2.9. When they didn’t wear a bell the average number of prey animals delivered over the four week period was 5.5.
That is getting on for a 50% success rate. This is one study. It doesn’t provide the complete picture. It does tell us that a bell on a collar has a success rate similar to the brightly coloured collar called Bird Safe.
If that success rate can be delivered across an entire country many millions of birds will be saved. And in Australia it might save some native, small marsupials and mammals, the favourite prey items for outdoor domestic cats and feral cats.
Making it a legal requirement? You will need to change the culture of cat ownership to get people to put collars with bells on their cats. Some cats won’t like it. Some owners will be reluctant to do it. But the law can change a country’s culture. Look at wearing a seatbelt in a car. And one time nobody wanted to do it; now it is automatic because it’s a legal requirement.
Make it a legal requirement that cat owners must put a collar and bell on their cat if they are indoor/outdoor cats. It will be impossible to enforce. Many people won’t do it but a substantial proportion will. That would be a success.
As the collar and bell is very visible on a domestic cat it would allow residents in a community to see whether a domestic cat is wearing it or not and if they weren’t they could report the incident to the authorities. That’s not great. It’s neighbour spying upon neighbour but the point is it would be a motivation for cat owners to comply with the law.
My conclusion is that bells on collars attached to cats allowed outside is worth doing and should not be pooh-poohed. Caveat: a zealous approach to protecting wildlife should be avoided in the interests of cat welfare. This is a balancing act between two species.
Separately, the people in charge of running Amsterdam, Holland, have decided to do exactly what I have suggested above. They are going to ask cat owners to put a collar and bell on their cats in an attempt to reduce the number of birds killed.
Notice that they’re going to “ask”. That’s the report that I see. I think they should make it a bylaw for the city of Amsterdam. It would actually be a good trial. They could make it a law and at the same time start a study which would motivate cat owners to report changes in the level of predation of the cat.
Bell does not change hunting style
The study I refer to above is titled: “Bells reduce predation of wildlife by domestic cats”. They concluded that the bell had no effect on the relative numbers of different prey types delivered to the owners and “there was no evidence that the cats adapted their hunting behaviour to reduce the effect of the bell over time.”
It’s just that the sound of the bell warned the advancing cat. It’s as simple as that. I’m a believer in simplicity because it’s often more effective than complex solutions.
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