Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 30 January - Feline predators blamed for wildlife killing spree

Cats are one of the top threats to wildlife in the US, killing billions of birds and small mammals every year, according to a new study.

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 30 January

Feline predators blamed for wildlife killing spree

By Darren Evans

Cats are one of the top threats to wildlife in the US, killing billions of birds and small mammals every year, according to a new study.

Scientists estimate that up to 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion small mammals are being killed annually by both feral cats and pet cats that are allowed to roam free – far more than previously believed.

This may be more than the number of animals killed by all human factors combined, such as road accidents, birds colliding with buildings or poisonings.

The study, by researchers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, analysed previous studies that looked at the predatory skills of cats and found that they had killed four times as many birds as previously thought.

The findings of the study are likely to apply to other countries too.

According to a 2008 survey by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the US has by far the largest pet cat population in the world with 83.8 million, followed by Russia with 17.8 million and Indonesia with 15 million. France has the largest pet cat population in Europe with 10 million, followed by the UK with 9.8 million.

Dr Pete Marra from the SCBI said he was "stunned" by his findings. "Our study suggests that they [cats] are the top threat to US wildlife," he added.

Native birds such as the American robin were most at risk, while mice, shrews, voles, squirrels and rabbits were the mammals most likely to be killed.

It is estimated that there are between 30 and 80 million feral cats or cats without owners in the US, which cause most of the deaths. However, the researchers said that cat-owners should still do more to limit their pets’ impact on wildlife. For years, bird-lovers in the US have said that domestic cats, which are not native to the country, should be more tightly controlled, including more aggressive capture and euthanasia of outdoor cats.

George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy, said: "The carnage that outdoor cats inflict is staggering and can no longer be ignored or dismissed. This is a wake-up call for cat owners and communities to get serious about this problem before even more ecological damage occurs."

But cat lovers say the animals have been made scapegoats for other factors that are killing birds, such as loss of habitat, and that cats without owners should be neutered and adopted or released.

Domestic cats have been blamed for the extinction of 33 species worldwide.


  • Is it right to control one animal population in order to preserve another?
  • What factors might pose a threat to wildlife in your community?
  • The extinction of one species can have a knock-on effect on an ecosystem.
    Why do you think this is?
  • How far should pet owners be held responsible for the actions of their pets?

Related resources

Cats Sleep Anywhere poem

  • Photos of a household cat in a range of situations linked to the words of the poem by Eleanor Farjeon.

BBC Class Clips: A comparison of wild cats and domestic cats

  • This video compares a 10-week-old lioness and a domestic cat. Both are members of the cat family.

What is an endangered species?

  • An activity to teach children about endangered species and what causes a species to become endangered.

Human effect on other species

  • Consider the human impact on animal populations with this PowerPoint presentation and discussion prompt.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week

Thousands of irreplaceable ancient manuscripts, dating back as far as the 12th century, have reportedly been destroyed by "Islamist" militants retreating from Timbuktu.

Former Italian PM causes outrage with Holocaust Memorial Day comments.

Thousands of crocodiles have made an intrepid break for freedom, after heavy rains in South Africa forced a tourist attraction to open its gates.

Women could soon be fighting alongside men in the United States military, following a landmark ruling by senior American officers.

In the news archive index