Surplus Killing

Surplus killing is where an animal kills prey that is not immediately used as food. Surplus killing is something that upsets some people and it is used by farmers as a reason to kill wild cats that attack livestock. It does look like crazed, wanton and unjustified killing for the fun of it.

Surplus killing and playing with prey by domestic cats is also an activity that is used by people who don’t like cats to argue against cats.

I am writing about surplus killing by cats in this instance. Other animals do it including, humans, wolves, brown bear, foxes, hyena, spiders and mink.

There are two types of surplus killing (a) when additional prey is killed ancillary to the prime target. This is better described as multiple killing. Lions acting together do this sometimes. Lynx also make multiple kills sometimes when hunting hares. The extra kills can be hidden (cached) for use in the future so this is strictly speaking not surplus killing and (b) true surplus killing — killing prey that is not utilised.

The big topic in relation to surplus killing is why does it happen?

The victims of surplus killing are normally livestock. They are penned in and cannot escape from the cat. Some wildcats have been recorded as being involved in surplus killing (a) caracal preying on sheep (b) snow leopards preying on sheep and goats and (c) lions preying on cattle. I have also read about cougars preying on livestock and indulging in surplus killing.

The first reason why it happens is because the drive to hunt and kill is separate and independent of the present urge to eat – hunger. Cats don’t hunt prey as a direct response to immediately satisfy hunger.

The second reason is that the prey (livestock) cannot escape. If surplus killing takes place on wild animals it may occur when environmental conditions are particularly helpful for the predator e.g. dark, wet and windy.

The third reason is that when cats are making multiple kills they are using their energy very efficiently. Andrew Kitchener in The Natural History of The Wild Cats (ISBN 0-8014-8498-7) says that they “maximise energy over time”. It seems to be an energy efficient way to kill and killing prey is an instinctive survival activity even if disconnected from the immediate need to eat.

There may be a fourth factor. When a cat or predator starts killing it may be difficult to switch off and return to the normal urges to hunt.

However, the downside of any attack on prey is the potential for the predator to get injured. An injured predator might not be able to hunt efficiently.

Unfortunately the wildcat is unable to rationalise the long term downside of surplus killing as it leads to retaliatory killing by farmers. The snow leopard is particularly susceptible as it is quite a trusting wildcat and is not as suspicious of the human as other large wild cats. They are relatively easy to kill it appears.

Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment written by visitors. It is a way visitors can contribute to animal welfare without much effort and no financial cost. Please comment. It helps this website too which at heart is about cat welfare.

Comments for
Surplus Killing

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Apr 02, 2012 i AGREE
by: Kathy W

I agree with Ruth. Humans are allowed to go out and kill animal just for pleasure. Now there are some people putting poison pellets out in the Chicagoland area to help control the squirell population. Some cats and dogs are being poisoned instead. Some people dont even use or eat the animals they kill. We have a neighborhood cat who killed and ate our little bunny that was out here. The neighbor Bill was very upset as he feeds all the animals including the 3 feral neighborhood cats. But now he knows why the grey one doesnt eat that much. This expains his picky eating habits. He does well for himself as a hunter. I dont agree with humans hunting. We dont need to. If you dont have food apply for food stamps or get your meat from someone who already has killed a poor creature and cant have all the meat. My boyfriend eats venison and he gets his from his dad who only hunts what he can eat. This winter when I dont have any grocery money the meat came in handy and I had to lower myself to eating some of it. It was very good made into tacos or the roast in the crock pot. I would love to be a vegatarian but right now its just not a good thing for me. I dont go crazy buying meat at the grocery store either. Mostly I buy chicken or ground turkey. Cats hunting is in their nature. They have to sometimes to just survive.

Mar 29, 2012 Humans
by: Michael

Well said Ruth. The human is by far the greatest surplus killer on the planet. Sport hunting is a classic example. Then the waste at factory farming and what about murders and wars etc.

We are the top predator and the biggest wanton killer.

Mar 29, 2012 People are hypocrites
by: Ruth

‘Surplus killing and playing with prey by domestic cats is also an activity that is used by people who don’t like cats to argue against cats’

I wonder how many of those people don’t protest about the animals and birds killed by people with guns who kill for their own pleasure.
There is a difference between cats and people, cats follow the instinct they were born with, they have no choice and can’t be blamed for that.
People who hunt know they are injuring or killing animals and they choose to do it.
I don’t see how anyone has the right to criticise the feline world when people who are supposed to be the most intelligent species on earth do exactly the same as cats do.
People are such hypocrites.
Take surplus meat or poultry, slaughtered animals and birds flesh packaged into neat portions, any unsold is eventually thrown away. they died in vain.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

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