We feed them. House them. Love them. And we might also be breeding a secret cat army.
Humans spend a lot of time thinking about the end of the world. There's the zombie apocalypse to prepare for, the looming robot apocalypse that Hollywood loves to dramatize, global warming, and then, of course, epic natural disasters like tsunamis and giant asteroids that theoretically could happen, but probably won't.
Meanwhile, humans are paving the way for a much more disturbing event: the catpocalypse.
Our cute and cuddly kitties are actually killing machines. Perfected by millions of years of evolution, cats are some of nature's most efficient hunters. In his book The World Without Us, an entertaining and well-researched read about what would happen if humanity disappeared today, Alan Weisman hypothesizes that cats are one of the most devastating impacts we will leave on the planet.
Here's why. There are roughly 600 million cats in the world. The AVMA estimates that approximately 70 million pet cats live in the U.S. Feral cat populations are harder to assess, but some scientists think there are around 60 million feral cats in the U.S. alone. That is a lot of cats, and they are already up to no good.
Cat lovers can feel superior about one thing at least. Cats are far better hunters than dogs. They are so efficient, in fact, that scientists conclude they are responsible for 33 bird extinctions, especially in areas where there are no natural predators and that cats are the leading cause of bird and small mammal fatalities in the U.S. To put it into perspective, cats kill an estimated 1.3 to 4 billion birds and up to 22 billion mammals annually. We can't blame feral cats for these statistics. Our cuddly indoor/outdoor kitty friends are just as culpable.
To make things more ecologically destabilizing, uncontrolled cat populations push other animals like raccoons and foxes out of their niches. In our current climactic crisis, this sort of destabilization is highly damaging to already struggling ecosystems.
We don't have to let the cat out of the bag. The two biggest things we can do to prevent a catpocalypse from continuing to wipe out troubled wildlife are spaying and neutering our cats and keeping our cats indoors. Yes, our feline friends love spending time outside. Unfortunately for your neighborhood birds, mostly what they love to do is hunt. Predation is natural. Predation on the scale of the current cat population is a problem, as any birdwatcher in New Zealand with happily tell you.
We often feel overwhelmed in the face of environmental challenges. This one, at least, should be avoidable. Barring large-scale disasters that force cat owners to abandon their pets or a sudden species-specific event that wipes out all humanity, it is safe to say that for the time being this secret cat army is safely locked away, content to knead, pounce on our feet and otherwise cause lovable mayhem in our lives.
For the sake of the environment, let's try and keep it that way.
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