Outspoken peer's radical solution to 'serial killer' cats
Muzzle your moggies! To you, he’s adorable Mr Tibbles. To the 270 million small animals savaged each year by cats, he’s a serial killer. Now an outspoken peer will make fur fly with his radical solution
The Italian garden outside our drawing-room deep in the West Country is beautiful at any time of year, but particularly now. In the lake, minuscule moorhen chicks scud along the surface, chirping at top volume, while their mother’s deeper call tells them where to go.
The lake, the centrepiece of the garden, attracts all kinds of wildlife: as well as moorhens and their chicks, we have mallards and their ducklings, robins, song-thrushes and the occasional heron.
In the undergrowth between the Classical urns, the odd fox, or badger, sniffs about. In the old oak, an ancient family of squirrels makes merry.
We do our best to make the garden an appealing habitat for wildlife. Our predecessors created it over many years, with a huge variety of trees, shrubs and flowers, which we can admire from a thatched summer house overlooking the lake.
We leave some areas unmown and unmanicured, to provide cover for ground-nesting birds, hedgehogs and other native species.
It is rewarding to see the miniature moorhens hatch and take their first tentative steps on their improbably long, spindly legs, before taking to the water.
Viscount Monckton writes: ‘We and all who love nature do not own cats. Yet a large, over-fed black-and-white cat gets through our hedges and shrubs like the Nazis over-running the Maginot Line’
But, to my sadness and despair, all too often these tiny creatures live only a day or two before they are savagely killed by Britain’s arch-predator, a serial killer that strikes not only at night but also in broad daylight, pouncing on its prey and dispatching it, sometimes with ruthless efficiency, sometimes with brutal sadism.
The accused is the domestic cat.
We and all who love nature do not own cats. Yet a large, over-fed black-and-white cat gets through our hedges and shrubs like the Nazis over-running the Maginot Line.
Often this unwanted invader leaves its victims’ feathers strewn across the lawn. We cannot move fast enough to stop it.
Presumably, the cat belongs to a neighbour, unless it is one of the growing herd of feral cats that were once domestic but have escaped.
I have a message for the owner, if there is one, and for all who keep cats. If you let them out, particularly at night or if you are not with them, put a muzzle on them.
In 1999, my late beloved father, the second Viscount, suggested in the House of Lords that cats should be muzzled.
‘If you let them (your pet cat) out, particularly at night or if you are not with them, put a muzzle on them,’ urges Viscount Monckton
Their Lordships harrumphed, but too many of them cared more for their cats than for their cats’ victims.
My father liked to ruffle feathers — or fur on this occasion — but he never did so without very good reason. As in so many things, he was ahead of his time.
Newly published academic research by the University of Reading and Royal Holloway College, University of London, suggests that pet cats are killing some 160 to 270 million animals a year, a far greater toll than the 100 million a year previously estimated by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which has long sounded warnings about the threat that Britain’s 9.5 million pet cats pose to birds. It is bad enough that vast windmills are killing our big game birds by the tens of thousands.
The researchers found that cats are responsible for a devastating death toll, not only targeting some of our best-loved birds, such as robins and ducklings, but rabbits, fieldmice and even hedgehogs, which are becoming very rare.
The study observed 79 cats in two environments: surrounded by other houses in the suburbs, and living on the edge of green spaces.
Each suburban cat, living about half a mile from natural land, hunted its prey over about five acres, killing an average of 15 animals a year. Each country cat, living within 100 yards of green spaces, hunted over more than eight acres around its home and killed an average of 34 animals a year.
The countryside cats killed far more robins, while their suburban counterparts killed more blackbirds.
Belling the cats proved worse than useless. The cats that had bells on their collars actually brought home more prey than those without bells. Nothing less than muzzling will work.
Dr Rebecca Thomas says cats ‘get fed by their owners and given veterinary care, so you could consider them mini super-predators’
The problem, says Dr Rebecca Thomas of Royal Holloway, is the sheer quantity of cats. There are far too many of them.
Cats are not a native species. They came originally from Africa. And as Dr Holloway says: ‘They reach incredibly and unnaturally high densities, especially in suburban environments. They get fed by their owners and given veterinary care, so you could consider them mini super-predators.’
Cats can be lovable companions, as the study’s authors carefully acknowledged, perhaps hoping to deflect the howls of outrage from cat owners.
They are also low-maintenance compared with dogs. Cats are ideal pets for those who cannot be at home, or are unable to take them for the regular walks that dogs need, as they take themselves for walks.
Therein lies the problem.
Dog-owners are obliged to keep their dogs in their own gardens, or under close control when they take them for a walk. No such rule applies to cats.
As Rudyard Kipling wrote, ‘I am the Cat who walks by himself.’ Cats are solitary. Even owners who do not imagine that their Mr Tibbles could ever hurt a fly, let alone a chick, are too easily deluded.
If they regularly let out their cat at night, there is every chance that, however good the cat-food they provide, Pussy will gorge itself on Mother Nature’s larder. Yet cats usually do not eat their prey. Like the foxes to which they are related, they hunt for the sake of hunting and kill for the sake of killing.
Some cats bring home the evidence of their crimes: entrails strewn across the kitchen floor, or a maimed rabbit cub twitching on the carpet. Others hide the evidence.
Viscount Monckton writes: ‘Dog-owners are obliged to keep their dogs in their own gardens, or under close control when they take them for a walk. No such rule applies to cats’
The economic damage they cause is immense. Dr Tara Pirie of the University of Reading, lead author of the study, explains: ‘Just the presence of a predator can cause wildlife to change their behaviour, either reducing feeding through heightened vigilance or staying away from a nest, leaving it exposed.
‘This can reduce the survival of both adults and offspring. Cats can also carry diseases such as Toxoplasma gondii, which can be transmitted to wildlife, again reducing their survival rate.’
So what is to be done? In New Zealand, where at least 40 per cent of households have cats, environmental campaigners have called for regulation to protect the million native birds that cats kill each year, including the highly intelligent but ground-nesting kea, which is now endangered.
In the 19th century an entire species, the flightless Lyall’s wren, was hunted to extinction by a single lighthouse-keeper’s cat.
In parts of Australia, the law prescribes no more than two cats per household, and cat curfews are also enforced at night.
Authorities in Germany have also acted: the town of Walldorf in Baden-Wurttemberg has ordered that cats be kept indoors from May until August to protect the last few crested larks in the area.
EU laws exist that are supposed to protect native bird species. For instance, Article 6 of the Birds Directive prohibits the intentional killing, catching or disturbing of birds. Member states are obliged to take all necessary protective measures.
While many ludicrous EU laws are rigorously enforced, this sensible one is ignored. Most member states do not enforce it. Unlike cats, the law has turned out to be toothless and clawless. That is why Walldorf acted on its own initiative.
We urgently need to take action here before it is too late for many bird species. Of course there are other factors affecting birds’ survival, such as loss of habitat, modern farming practices and, above all, wind farms, which kill the smaller species onshore and interfere with migration routes offshore.
‘Muzzling cats will not hurt them,’ writes Viscount Monckton. ‘Many dogs are muzzled when they go out and about. Muzzling stops cats from hurting and killing birds, as well as baby hedgehogs, rabbits and other small mammals’
Environmental groups lobby vociferously about habitat loss and farming methods, but are as curiously quiet on the subject of the mass birdkill by cats as they are on the slaughter of birds by windmills. It seems that they fear alienating cat-lovers.
Some 70 of our native bird species, including the cuckoo, the nightingale, the swift and the house martin, are on the RSPB’s red list. They are in serious decline.
It is time for action.
Muzzling cats will not hurt them. Many dogs are muzzled when they go out and about. Muzzling stops cats from hurting and killing birds, as well as baby hedgehogs, rabbits and other small mammals.
We humans caused this problem, by introducing a non-native species, breeding them, and turning them into apex predators — at the top of the food chain, with nothing preying on them. But we become the apex predator if we favour one creature at the expense of so many others.
A cat curfew might be hard to enforce, but muzzles are a simple solution.
It is because cats spend so much of their lives unsupervised that measures are needed to stop them from doing harm.
In the meantime, responsible cat-owners should lock their cat-flap, at the very least keeping their cats in during the spring when birds are breeding and nests are filled with vulnerable eggs, and fledglings making their first tentative attempts at flight.
For Nature’s sake, please muzzle your moggies before Britain’s native birds are hunted to extinction. Then my late beloved father may rest in peace.
Christopher Monckton of Brenchley was an adviser on domestic policy to Margaret Thatcher, 1982-86.
Source: Read Full Article