Science

Researchers identify five types of cat owner in quest to reduce hunting of endangered birds 


There are five different types of cat owner when it comes to their pet’s hunting habits, a study revealed, and they range from protector to laissez-faire landlord. 

University of Exeter researchers surveyed UK cat owners to get a better idea of views surrounding the impact of their pet’s hunting and roaming activities on local wildlife.

Conservation organisations have long been concerned about the numbers of animals caught by the UK’s large population of domestic cats.

There were mixed views from those deeply concerned through to those who were unaware of any issues surrounding cats hunting. 

Understanding how cat owners feel about hunting can help researchers develop techniques to reduce its impact on wildlife populations, the team explained. 

University of Exeter researchers surveyed UK cat owners to get a better idea of views surrounding the impact of their pet's hunting and roaming activities on local wildlife

University of Exeter researchers surveyed UK cat owners to get a better idea of views surrounding the impact of their pet’s hunting and roaming activities on local wildlife

Suggested measures to reduce hunting success include fitting cats with brightly coloured ‘BirdsBeSafe’ collar covers. Many owners also fit their cats with bells.  

Most pet cats kill very few wild animals, if any, but with a population of around 10 million cats, the numbers of birds, small mammals and reptiles can accumulate.

Apart from their role as ‘mousers’, most owners find the dead animals brought home an unpleasant reminder of their pet’s wilder side.

Addressing this problem has been difficult because of disagreements between people prioritising cat welfare and those focusing on wildlife conservation. 

The Exeter team’s ongoing research project ‘Cats, Cat Owners and Wildlife’ aims to find a conservation win-win for both sides in the argument.

They are trying to do this by identifying ways of owners managing their cats that benefit the animal as well as reducing wildlife killing.

This research is a step towards understanding how cat owners view their cats and how best to manage them, the authors of the study explained.

As part of this the Exeter team developed a quiz that pet owners can take to determine which of the five ‘owner’ categories they fit into. 

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The researchers say their findings demonstrate the need for diverse management strategies that reflect the differing perspectives of cat owners.

‘Although we found a range of views, most UK cat owners valued outdoor access for their cats and opposed the idea of keeping them inside to prevent hunting,’ said lead author, Dr Sarah Crowley, from the University of Exeter. 

The researchers say their findings demonstrate the need for diverse management strategies that reflect the differing perspectives of cat owners. Stock image

The researchers say their findings demonstrate the need for diverse management strategies that reflect the differing perspectives of cat owners. Stock image

Crowley, who works out of the Environment and Sustainability Institute in Cornwall, said: ‘Cat confinement policies are unlikely to find support among owners in the UK.

‘However, only one of the owner types viewed hunting as a positive, suggesting the rest might be interested in reducing it by some means.

THE FIVE TYPES OF CAT OWNER WHEN IT COMES TO HUNTING 

Conscientious caretakers: These owners are concerned about cats’ impact on wildlife and feel some responsibility

Freedom defenders: These cat parents are opposed restrictions on cat behaviour altogether

Concerned protectors: This type of owner is primarily focussed on cat safety

Tolerant guardians: These are owners that dislike their cats hunting but tended to accept it

Laissez-faire landlords: The most relaxed of cat owners, they were largely unaware of any issues around cats roaming and hunting

‘To be most effective, efforts to reduce hunting must be compatible with owners’ diverse circumstances.’ 

The research team are now examining the effectiveness of these and other new measures and how owners feel about them.

The aim of the initiative is to be able to offer different and targeted solutions.

‘This latest research we have funded reveals the incredibly diverse perspectives amongst cat owners in regard to their pets’ hunting behaviour,’ said Tom Streeter, Chairman of SongBird Survival.

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‘If nature is to ‘win’ and endangered species thrive, a pragmatic approach is needed whereby cat owners’ views are considered as part of wider conservation strategies.

‘The study highlights the urgent need for cat owners and conservationists to work together to find tailored solutions that are cheap, easy to implement, and have a positive effect on wildlife and bird populations across the UK.’

iCatCare’s Head of Cat Advocacy, Dr Sarah Ellis, said the findings that many cat owners care a great deal about conservation suggests some will be receptive to introducing measure to reduce potential harm to local wildlife. 

‘The right interventions could improve wildlife conservation efforts, maintain good cat mental-wellbeing, and at the same time improve the cat-human relationship.

‘This would be especially true for ‘tolerant guardians’ and ‘conscientious caretakers’, by reducing the internal conflict of loving an animal that often hunts other animals they also care about.’

The study included 56 cat owners, some from rural parts of the UK – mostly in south-west England – and some from urban areas such as Bristol and Manchester.

The paper has been published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 

RSPB RECOMMENDS NOT HELPING FLEDGLING CHICKS ‘UNLESS THEY ARE IN IMMEDIATE DANGER’

Although the RSPB recommends not interfering with fledglings, the charity said there are circumstances when Britons should come to the birds aid.

Immediate danger

If the baby bird is on a busy road or path, the RSPB advises picking the bird up and moving it a short distance to a safe place such as a dense shrubbery.

This must be within hearing distance of where it was found. UK birds have a poor sense of smell and won’t abandon their young if they are touched.

If a cat or dog is spotted eyeing up a fledgling, then you are advised to keep your domestic pet indoors for a few days – or at least around dawn and dusk.

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Injury

Those who find an injured fledgling should report it to the RSPB. They can be contacted on 0300 1234 999.

Swifts found on the ground need help

Swifts found on the ground need help

Nestlings

If a baby bird is discovered on the ground without feathers or covered in fluff, then it is a nestling that has likely fallen from its nest before it is ready.

These youngsters can sometimes be put back in their nests, but the RSPB says you should only attempt this if you are 100 per cent sure you have found its home and it is safe to do this.

It’s also important to remember that sometimes adult birds eject their chicks if they sense an underlying health problem, or if it is dying.

Grounded swifts

If you find a fallen swift it should be placed in a shoebox and kept away from noise and other disturbances. You can give it water by running a wet cotton bud around the edge of its beak.

These animals are hard to care for, so the RSPB recommends contacting a swift carer. They are listed here

Baby barn owns should be returned to their nests if they are found on the ground

Baby barn owns should be returned to their nests if they are found on the ground

Barn owl chicks

Some people may also come across barn owl chicks, which normally leave nests before they can fly.

The RSPB states that Owlets in this case do need help, as those on the ground will be ignored by their parents. They recommend gently placing it back into the nest.

Owls have a poor sense of smell and won’t reject a baby because it was handled by humans. You can check whether it is healthy at this website



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