Wildlife experts in Belgium are concerned about the impact of outdoor cats on Belgian ecosystems. A lack of research means that the exact impact of outdoor cats in said country is unknown. There are estimates that the average Belgian cat is responsible for 14 to 34 victims on an annual basis, which would mean about 30 to 70 million victims because of the more than 2 million Belgian cats that are out there. Other studies in other countries have turned up more solid but no less shocking numbers, with an excellent example being the one stating that U.S. cats are responsible for killing 1.4 to 4 billion birds as well as 6.2 to 22 million mammals every single year. Similarly, British researchers have summed up their findings by saying that there is an “inevitable” connection between large numbers of cats and large numbers of dead wildlife. Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that a wide range of wildlife experts from a wide range of countries are concerned about the impact of outdoor cats on local environments, particularly since the latter are often already under considerable strain.
Why Is This Such a Huge Issue?
Those who are wondering why so many people are so concerned should know that there is evidence that we are in the middle of a mass extinction. For those who are unfamiliar, such events are when about 3 in 4 species become extinct within a short period of time by geological standards. As a result, being in the middle of a mass extinction isn’t seen as a good thing to say the least. So far, there have been five mass extinctions. First, there was the Ordovician-Silurian extinction that happened about 450 to 440 million years ago. Its first phase was caused by glaciation while its second phase was caused by the abrupt end of that same glaciation. Combined, the two phases killed off about 85 percent of species. Second, there was the Late Devonian extinction that happened about 375 to 360 million years ago. There is ongoing debate over the exact length as well as the exact number of extinction pulses. Whatever the case, it killed off at least 70 percent of species. Third, there was the Permian-Triassic extinction event that happened about 251.9 million years ago. This one is notorious enough to be known as the Great Dying because of the extinction of 90 to 96 percent of species. Something caused by the combination of higher temperatures, oceanic anoxia, and ocean acidification. Fourth, there was the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event that happened 201.3 million years ago. The huge amounts of carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere killed off 70 to 75 percent of species. Those species included most of the competitors to dinosaurs and pterosaurs, thus paving the way for them to dominate the land for the next 135 million years or so. Fifth, there was the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event that happened 66 million years ago. This one is well-known because this is the one caused by either a large meteor or a large asteroid striking the planet. Subsequently, the loss of 75 percent of species enabled birds and mammals to replace dinosaurs and pterosaurs as the dominant lifeforms above the sea.
Currently, we are in the middle of what is being called the Holocene extinction. It is far from being confirmed that this will be the sixth mass extinction. However, there is fear of that happening, not least because the current rate of extinction is estimated to be around 100 to 1,000 times the normal rate of extinction. Humans have been making other species extinct for a long time. To name an example, both the dodo and its closest relative the Rodrigues solitaire went extinct in the early modern era because of hunting by both humans and human-introduced species. Unfortunately, the rate of extinction seems to be speeding up. There are more humans than ever before. Furthermore, humans are consuming more resources on an individual basis than ever before. As a result, species have come under pressure, which isn’t even mentioning what will happen in the future as climate change continues to roll in.
Of course, mass extinctions are a bit too big-picture. Past a certain point, it becomes difficult for us to understand large events on an intuitive level, thus resulting in loss of meaning. Even so, there is plenty of evidence of how human activities are affecting other species on the local level. Outdoor cats are a great example of this. Our fondness for our feline companions means that they have spread with us, meaning that they are now pretty much everywhere. That includes places where the local species weren’t pressured by similar predators, thus making them extra-vulnerable to cats. Combined with other factors, feline predation is very much capable of tipping species towards extinction, which can send consequences cascading throughout their ecosystems. Certainly, most ecosystems can survive some losses. The issue is that those losses make everything around them that much more fragile, meaning that they become that much more vulnerable to extinction themselves. As such, wildlife experts have very good reason to be concerned.
What Do Wildlife Experts Want to See Happen?
Having said that, wildlife experts don’t really want anything drastic when it comes to cats. After all, they like cats as much as anyone else, so they aren’t exactly pushing for something ludicrous such as getting rid of cats altogether. Instead, wildlife experts have been pushing for cat owners to keep their cats indoors rather than let their cats roam outdoors, thus reducing opportunities for their cats to hunt the local wildlife. In part, they and like-minded individuals do this by educating cat owners about the issue. However, there are also places where there is now enough support for people to legislate such matters. Elsewhere, wildlife experts are fully-aware that the transition won’t happen all of a sudden. This can be seen in much softer suggestions such as keeping cats indoors during the breeding season for local wildlife rather than keeping cats indoors all of the time.