Finding a way for cats and wildlife to coexist on International Cat Day

Kate Atema, IFAW’s Program Director of Community Animals, with a kitten at a Moscow municipal animal shelter.Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the Hawai’i Conservation Conference in Honolulu in order to participate on a panel about the intersection between cats and wildlife. Evolved from wild cats, our furry companions are actually stealthy and talented little serial killers – often put to use taking care of unwanted rodents in barns, fields – even our basements. For centuries we have appreciated their skill, and developed an affection for their pouncing, batting and carnivorous ways. But what happens when our sweet friends mix with endangered wildlife? It turns out, they leave threatened populations, and a divided community, in their wake.

In Hawai’i, the debate about cats is a challenging and important one. On one side, conservation scientists are ringing the alarm: cats, a non-native species, pose a critical threat to indigenous wild populations already under threat from many sources. On the other hand, we know that few people want to see harm done to cats – even those that are known to harm wildlife.

IFAW believes that all animals matter, both as individuals and in populations. This makes us a kind of “third side” in this conversation about cats. While others may advocate for either removing cats or protecting them at all cost, IFAW believes that it is important that communities find humane ways to improve how they live with their domestic animals and wildlife, for the protection and welfare of both.

For instance, there are many ways to protect wildlife while appreciating the important role cats play in our lives. One of the most effective ways is to turn your cat into a circus clown – seriously! Because birds are highly attuned to color, researchers have discovered that birds are far better at evading cats who wear large, colorful collars.  You can purchase collars that will make your cat look ridiculously cute, and save birds, through Birdsbesafe.

Another important way to protect wildlife is by sterilizing and vaccinating our cats, and ensuring that we do the same for any outdoor cats we care for. This can prevent the population of feral cat colonies from growing and help stop the spread of diseases and parasites which can affect other cats, people and wildlife.

For owned cats, preventing them from roaming, especially where threatened wildlife is at risk, is important. Cat-proof fencing, “catios,” and keeping cats stimulated and happy indoors are all cat- and wildlife-friendly options. To keep indoor cats occupied, you can set a perch next to a window so they can survey birds, squirrels, and whatever else might wander by.

Whether your cat is indoors, or has the luxury of a catio, it’s important to give them a stimulating environment – this means lots of vertical things to climb and hang out in, ropes to swat at, and posts to scratch. Cats also need plenty of toys they can play with. And if all else fails, there is always video! There are thousands of wildlife videos on the internet that are actually made for cats. And we all know cats really do own the internet!  

It is important to remember that, by looking after our pets responsibly, we are ultimately protecting them from harm and unfair treatment – and that we can help protect wildlife as well.

On International Cat Day, let’s remember that the discussion isn’t just about cats OR about wildlife. It’s not an irresolvable argument between cat lovers and wildlife lovers. Cats have a place in Hawai’i, and everywhere, and we can keep that place safe by ensuring we are loving and careful guardians.

--KA

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Experts

Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Gail A'Brunzo, Manager, Wildlife Rescue
Manager, Wildlife Rescue
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Kate Nattrass Atema, Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters