Studies Show Outdoor Cats Are Popular Prey For Coyotes

Thursday, March 29, 2012
- photo by USFWS

American Bird Conservancy, the leading bird conservation organization in the United States, advises that as coyotes continue to move into and around large cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Los Angeles, and others, owners of cats should think twice before letting their pet roam free outdoors. Studies show that outdoor cats make up 13-45 percent of coyote diets in those environments.

A study just published in the spring edition of The Wildlife Professional, focuses on the urban coyote reality and references sightings of the carnivore in Central Park and Manhattan. While coyote attacks on humans are rare, the study says that when human attacks have occurred, “…there is a correlation between high percentages of anthropogenic food sources – such as dog food, trash, and domestic cats.” It states further that reducing such incidents might require removing all exterior food sources, including cats.

According to one widely-cited scientific study on cat mortality from coyotes, Observations of Coyote-Cat Interactions by Shannon Grubbs of the University of Arizona and Paul Krausman of the University of Montana, coyotes regularly feed on cats. This study was published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, and chronicles researchers tracking coyotes in Tucson, Arizona, where 36 coyote-cat interactions were observed of which 19 resulted in coyotes killing cats.

Other studies have found that approximately 13% of a coyote’s diet consists of cats. However, in the Grubbs-Krausman study, of the 45 instances where coyotes were observed feeding, 42% of the meals were cats. The researchers concluded that any cat outside is vulnerable to coyote attack, and recommended that cat owners keep their cats indoors.

This finding raises questions about Trap, Neuter, Release programs, where feral cats are caught, neutered, and then released back into the wild. ABC has consistently raised concerns about TNR programs because these cats kill hundreds of millions of birds each year, and also because TNR programs do not provide a humane solution for the cats themselves.

“Well-meaning but misguided cat lovers are creating unsafe conditions for domestic cats by releasing them back into areas where they may become prey for coyotes and other predators,” said Darin Schroeder, ABC’s Vice President of Conservation Advocacy. “Owners who let their pet cat out into their neighbourhoods may be unknowingly ringing the dinner bell to unseen coyotes. We urge states, cities, and communities to reject this inhumane approach to the feral cat problem and instead, require responsible care of pets and the removal of feral cats from the wild."

Despite this risk of predation, TNR has been adopted in areas with large coyote populations. Arizona’s Maricopa County, which is the fourth largest county in the country with nearly four million people, has adopted TNR.

“County officials are wrong when they say TNR is an effective and humane solution,” said Mr. Schroeder. “The truth is that studies repeatedly shows that in almost all cases, TNR fails to eliminate cat colonies because not all the cats can be caught, and because people see these colonies as places they can dump their unwanted and usually un-neutered cat., The reality is that TNR perpetuates many of the problems caused by feral cats, including risks to human and health, public nuisance, and the predation of birds and other wildlife. Feral and free-roaming cats kill hundreds of millions of our nation’s birds each year, putting additional pressure on the populations of many species that are in decline.”

American Bird Conservancy has produced a short film “Trap, Neuter, and Release: Bad for Cats, Disaster for Birds,” which reveals how Trap, Neuter, and Release is failing to substantially reduce cat numbers despite advocates’ claims, and is contributing to the deaths of an estimated 500 million birds each year. In addition, cats have been responsible for the extinction of an estimated 33 species of birds. 

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