What are your thoughts when your cat goes out hunting, provided you think about it at all? Do you take delight in your cat doing what it is meant to do? Or are you concerned about the wildlife it will hunt down, or about the safety of the cat itself? Depending on your attitude, you could belong to any of five categories of cat owners.
What are these categories?
They are newly defined, and published by researchers from the University of Exeter in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
* CONCERNED PROTECTOR: If all your concerns are about the cat, this is where you belong. A Concerned Protector worries about her cat being lost, stolen or killed while out hunting, and believes keeping cats indoors keeps them safe. This category also includes cat owners who do not have strong feelings about hunting behaviour, but wouldn’t keep cats indoors solely to stop them hunting.
* FREEDOM DEFENDER: At the next level are those who champion the hunting rights of their cat, without the excessive worries about the cat’s safety associated with Concerned Protectors. They believe that cats should be allowed to roam where they please, that hunting is a sign of normal behaviour, and that it helps control the population of rats and mice. In short, they oppose any restrictions imposed on cats going outdoors.
* TOLERANT GUARDIAN: This kind of cat owner acknowledges the negative aspects of hunting but rules in favour of the cat. The cat runs a risk of getting injured or lost, but the benefits of hunting outweigh that risk. If you belong to this category, you would find it a pity that your cat poses a risk to wildlife, but then you would point out that hunting is just what cats do.
* CONSCIENTIOUS CARETAKER: This is the kind who feels responsible for whatever her cat has been up to. Yes, cats should be allowed to go out sometimes, but there’s no harm in some kind of containment. Hunting bothers the Conscientious Caretaker, who feels responsible for managing her cat’s hunting.
* LAISSEZ-FAIRE LANDLORD: This cat owner is not in the least bothered whether her cat is hunting or not. If he is out hunting, that’s natural. If it gets hurt while hunting, that’s also natural. A Laissez-faire Landlord has never seriously thought about how hunting cats could affect wildlife populations.
But which category do I belong to?
The definitions should provide an indication. If you find yourself matching the descriptions under more than one category, there is still a way to find out. The researchers have designed an online quiz.
What is the significance of this classification?
Published in a peer-reviewed journal, the research arose out of concerns about the effects of domestic cats on wildlife they were hunting. While the study was specifically about the UK, such concerns can be universal in any setting where domestic cats are in conflict with local wildlife.
In the UK, conservation organisations have long been concerned about the numbers of animals caught by the large population of domestic cats in the country.
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But how does classifying cat owners address concerns about wildlife?
It’s one step towards a solution to a problem with multiple layers. One aspect is the number of domestic cats in the UK, a staggering 10 million. Now most of them kill very few wild animals, if any, but when the cat population is so large, the numbers of animals they hunt can accumulate: birds, small mammals, reptiles.
On the other side of the argument are those who own these cats. Amid constant disagreement between those who prioritise cat welfare and those who are concerned about wildlife, the University of Exeter team have taken up a research project called Cats, Cat Owners and Wildlife. The newly published paper defining five categories of cat owners is part of the ongoing larger project.
What is the way forward?
The research project aims to identify ways of owners managing their cats that benefit the cats as well as reducing wildlife killing.
From the findings of the published paper, the researchers note the need for diverse management strategies that reflect the differing perspectives of cat owners.
Although the five categories are diverse, it emerges that most cat owners (at least in the UK, where 56 owners were surveyed) are opposed to the idea of confining their cat indoors. On the other hand, only one kind of owner, the Freedom Defender, views hunting as a positive. This suggests that the way forward may be in reducing hunting to an extent without trying to confine the cat indoors all the time. But again, the efforts to reduce hunting must be compatible with owners’ diverse circumstances, the researchers note.
They suggest measures such as fitting cats with brightly coloured “BirdsBeSafe” collar covers, or bells around their necks. The researchers are now examining the effectiveness of such measures, and how owners feel about them.
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