Cat owners 'in denial on killings'
Cat owners are in denial about the murderous impact their pets are having on wildlife, experts claim.
A study of 86 cats living in two UK villages found that owners had little understanding of the scale of the slaughter.
In a survey, 60% disagreed that cats were harming wildlife and 13% strongly disagreed. Owners were also strongly opposed to keeping their cats indoors as a control measure.
The number of animals killed each year by domestic cats in the UK runs into the millions, according to the researchers, whose findings appear in the journal Ecology and Evolution.
Dr Jenni McDonald, from the University of Exeter's Penryn campus in Cornwall, said: "Our study shows that cat owners do not accept that cats are a threat to wildlife and oppose management strategies with the exception of neutering.
"There is a clear need to directly address the perceptions and opinions of cat owners.
"If we are to successfully reduce the number of wildlife deaths caused by domestic cats, the study suggests that we should use cat welfare as a method of encouraging cat owners to get involved."
The scientists observed the hunting activity of 86 cats belonging to 58 households in the villages of Mawnan Smith in Cornwall and Thornhill near Stirling.
Over a period of four months, the Mawnan Smith cats brought home a total of 325 victims, mostly consisting of small mammals such as mice, voles and rats.
Birds accounted for 26.5% of kills, with the house sparrow the most common species targeted.
The average number of prey returned each month ranged from zero in the case of 10 non-predatory cats to 10.25.
The total number of animals killed by Thornhill cats was not shown in the study but average prey returns in the village ranged from zero to 4.75 per month.
Again, mammals were the most commonly-caught prey, with birds making up just over a quarter of kills.
Owners generally knew whether their cat was predatory or not, but those with a predatory cat had little notion of the extent of its hunting activity.
In Mawnan Smith, 45 owners were asked to fill out a questionnaire highlighting their perceptions and attitudes.
Co-author Professor Matthew Evans, from Queen Mary, University of London, said: "In this paper we examined how aware cat owners were of the predatory behaviour of their pet.
"Owners proved to be remarkably unaware of the predatory behaviour of their cat, they also did not agree with any measures that might limit the impact that cats have on local wildlife.
"This study illustrates how difficult it would be to change the behaviour of cat owners if they are both unaware of how many animals are killed by their pet and resistant to control measures.
"This presents conservationists who might be attempting to reduce cat predation with serious difficulties as owners disassociate themselves from any conservation impacts of their cat and take the view that cat predation is a natural part of the ecosystem."