Credit: Dr Sarah Crowley
Wanted: Pet owners whose cats take a walk on the wild side
The University of Exeter is seeking cat owners to become researchers for a new study designed to test different techniques to reduce the amount of wildlife killed by domestic cats, while maintaining and improving cat health and welfare.
The team of researchers from the University’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall are looking for cat-owning volunteers from across the South West region to participate in the project.
They are specifically keen to find owners whose feline friends bring wild prey back to their homes.
Taking place throughout spring and summer, the project will welcome participants who are willing to help in a number of different ways.
Contributors will be asked to keep a basic log of what prey their cats return with, while others will track their cat’s movements through GPS collars, as seen on TV’s Secret Life of Cats.
Helpers will also test a range of techniques designed to find practical ways to reduce hunting, and ideally improve their cat’s health and welfare.
These include giving the cats colourful patterned collars that make them conspicuous to birds, fitting existing collars with deterrents such as bells, upgrading their pet’s diets and also introducing so-called puzzle feeders as a different way of providing food.
All methods will be approved by the Project Advisory Group, which includes representation from International Cat Care and the RSPCA.
The aim of the project is to reduce the amount of wildlife killed by cats without negatively affecting, and hopefully enhancing, cat welfare.
Dr Sarah Crowley, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute and part of the research team said: “We are excited to be launching this new research that aims to work closely with cat owners to find innovative solutions to the tricky problem of cats hunting wildlife. We know many cat owners are concerned about their pets killing birds, especially, and are looking to identify the most effective and practical ways to limit this behaviour without compromising cat welfare.”
Cats vary in the amount they hunt, with some catching multiple birds and small mammals every week, while many others stay indoors or rarely lift a predatory paw.
With up to 11 million cats in the UK, some conservationists are nevertheless concerned about the effect even a minority of hunting cats might have on wildlife, especially declining species like house sparrows. This now project comes after a recent study, involving the same research team, found that while many cat owners dislike their feline companions’ compulsion to catch wildlife, they also feel unable to control it.
Hunting, and the resulting corpses on the kitchen floor, were seen as natural behaviour outside owners’ control. Those who did want to limit hunting felt this was difficult to achieve without locking cats indoors – and hardly any owners wanted this.
Professor Robbie McDonald, who leads the research project, added “This is a great chance for owners and their families to find out more about the secret life of their cats
“Taking part in this major science project will help wildlife and cats by recording valuable data from individual households. “
Cat owners who live in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Bristol or Dorset who wish to take part in the new project should sign up by visiting www.wildlifescience.org/catowners . It is free to take part. Guidance and all the equipment will be provided.
Date: 28 February 2019