Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Sweet Little Serial Killer

My current read is Alan Weisman's "The World Without Us". It is a good read, important, informative, frightening and entertaining at the same time, and I highly recommend it to anyone (which really should be everyone) who cares about the current and future state of the planet.
Some chapters and paragraphs go into a little too much detail for my taste, in some others, I would have wanted to know more.

But why I am actually writing this blog today is because of the author calling the four-legged furry creature so many of us have living with them, Felis silvestris catus, a small serial killer.

He basically says that our pet cats are genetically identical with the small wild species still existing (albeit at very limited numbers) in Europe, Africa and some parts of Asia. In spite of having adapted over the past millenia to living alongside humans (to mutual benefit, I wish to add), they as a species have never lost their hunting instinct, and birds still fit their prey pattern very well.

Much as I like Alan Weisman's book, I can not agree with his affirmation that cats (at least those regularly fed by humans) kill birds purely out of bloodlust. Animals do not kill for bloodlust; that is an entirely human invention, I dare say. Animals kill out of instinct, for various reasons (prey to feed on, territorial fights, partner fights, and so on).

He further cites several statistics in the book: Compared to the doubling of human world population over the past 50 years, cat population has increased in the 20 years from 1970 to 1990 alone from 30 to 60 million. The average stray town cat will kill 28 birds a year (is that a lot? It is just a bit more than one every two weeks. Most humans eat, in terms of meat, the equivalent of more than one dead bird every two weeks - and we all know that the way these animals are usually raised and killed is entirely different from what we COULD do if we were willing to spend a bit more money on meat and not insist on buying the cheap stuff from the supermarket freezer).

The study he cites also states that cats living in the countryside will kill a lot more than those 28 birds per year. Examining the numbers for the state of Wisconsin, said study concluded that the roughly two million cats roaming the rural areas there were responsible for the death of more than 219 million birds/year.

A few pages before getting to the "furry serial killer" bit, the author writes of an estimated billion birds that smash themselves to death every year by flying into windows. Another 120 million get killed by humans on purpose. 80 million end up as a bloody mash on the cars and trucks speeding along our highways. A further half billion birds fly into sending masts, and an unspecified number gets killed by flying into the high voltage lines crossing our landscapes (not from the voltage, but from the impact). Add to that those poisoned by pesticides, and you don't even want to know the number anymore.

Cats are nasty little buggers with sharp teeth and claws, as selfish as they need to be, masking their nastiness behind their cuteness and beauty. But they are no different from other animals hunting and killing in that respect, and I repeat: they do it because it is their nature to do so.

I am glad to have my own little serial killer, who, in the 8 years she's been living with me now, has not even brought in a mouse, let alone a bird. She is a bit on the clumsy side, as opposed to my old cat Mimi, who brought mice in every day, and on a handful of occasions a bird.


  1. Though I don't know whether I'd call it bloodlust I am pretty sure that there are animals out there that will kill more prey than they actually need to eat... Though I can't really recall which animals that would be.

    Cats and other introduced species are major problems in Australia. The ecosystem in Australia developed in mostly in isolation from the rest of the world and many of the introduced species have few to no natural predators here and either prey on our native species or compete with them for food and habitat.


    Besides what the cats do to the wildlife I think one of the saddest things is what we do to cats. It seems that at a quite conservative estimate there are around 4 million cats and dogs euthanised in shelters each year just in the US. If I recall correctly around half of the dogs and I think probably around two thirds of the cats that enter a shelter won't come out again alive.

  2. Dear Librarian,
    I agree on every item in your post. I have seen on television once a study, they watched cats in England over several years, and they found out, that they mostly ate mice, rarely birds.
    But anyway, if you watch a cat, playing with a mouse, until ist bites it to death- it looks just a little cruel. But how could the cat know this? It's just an animal, isn't it?

  3. Well, the only reason that we 'know' what's cruel is because somebody decided for us. It used to be that people of 'lesser' genders, classes and races (and animals) didn't have any rights and that one could treat them *however* one wanted without it being considered 'cruel' - it just wasn't culturally accepted that it was. It was over two thousand years from the creation of democracy in Greece to us getting to the stage where we now have a society in which the great majority of people can have a vote.

  4. Thank you both for your comments! Warwick, I have seen documentaries on telly showing sharks going absolutely bonkers when they were exposed to the scent of blood, and biting everything within reach, metal bars and other non-edible stuff included.
    Introduced species are a problem everywhere. In the UK, for instance, the bigger grey squirrel brought over from the US has almost completely wiped out the original population of smaller red squirrels.
    Same goes for a lot of plants, only that we rarely notice what is happening because to us, there still ARE plants and animals there, just not the original kind.
    Anonymous, I agree with you on the cat-plays-with-mouse bit. When my old cat brought in mice and they were still alive, I usually took them from her and set them free outside again (only for them to be brought in later, I'm afraid, more often than not!).
    Big cats like leopards and cheetahs will bring live baby antelopes to their little ones to teach them that this is where their food comes from. It sounds and looks cruel to us, but - again - it is nature. Nature is not cruel. It just IS.

  5. Oh, and you don't need to look at the past for people of "lesser" genders, classes and races being abused and treated cruelly. Just go to India, where incredibly rich people treat their fellow citizens of lesser castes worse than the dirt under their feet.
    I recommend reading "The White Tiger": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Tiger