Cats! Wild to Mild - San Diego Natural History Museum

Killer Cats in Our County

There's a little bit of wildness in every cat. Loveable, cuddly house cats, stray and abandoned cats, and feral cats are all instinctive hunters, and they are decimating small wildlife. Domestic cats are abundant, and their numbers are growing. Their population density is higher than that of any natural predator. It is estimated that the average well-cared for pet cat kills over 100 small animals every year. With 6.5 million pet cats and 3.5 million stray and feral cats statewide, the carnage is adding up.

A Case in Point
San Diego is a lovely place to call home. Beautiful vistas, mild climate, beaches that are among the best in the world. People love it here too; our population continues to swell. It's a bittersweet story. As we colonize the land, its earlier inhabitants are often forced out.

Photo of nesting ternPushed to the brink of extinction is the Least Tern. This deftly flying fishing bird makes its nest on sandy beaches. The beaches are now filled with people and dogs. If the birds are lucky enough to mate successfully, the eggs and chicks are easily trampled.

Habitat loss is the greatest threat to wildlife. Predation is the second greatest threat to many species, and domestic cats are highly effective predators. In one Least Tern nesting colony, 60 of 120 tern chicks were killed by cats in a single night.

Squeezed by a shrinking habitat, the Least Tern may always be on the list of endangered species. The good news is their population is rebounding. During the 1970s, 600 breeding pairs were counted in San Diego County. Now, the county boasts 3000 pairs. Protecting habitat and controlling predators, such as cats, are the key to preserving the Least Tern.

A Win-Win Solution
  • Keep cats indoors.
    The best way to protect wildlife from cats, and the best way to protect cats from the danger of disease, cars, and coyotes is to keep them indoors. Collar bells do not protect wildlife from cat attacks. (In fact, pet owners are legally responsible for damage to endangered species done by their pets.) The American Bird Conservancy has some excellent suggestions on how to make your outdoor cat a happy indoor cat.
  • Spay and neuter cats.
    A pair of breeding cats and their offspring can produce 400,000 cats in 7 years! Call Pet Assistance for reduced cost spay and neuter information: 619-544-1222.
  • Don't dump your cat.
    It's a dog-eat-cat world out there: the lives of abandoned and feral cats are miserable. Rampant disease, accidental poisoning, cars, and coyotes kill cats. Free-roaming cats endanger wild Mountain Lions and Bobcats with feline diseases. (Besides, it is unlawful to release non-native animals to the wild.)
  • Do not feed stray or feral cats unless you intend to adopt them and keep them indoors.
    Subsidizing cat colonies with food adds to the problem of cat overpopulation. Despite efforts to spay and neuter feral cats, their numbers continue to grow. Well-fed cats continue to kill wildlife.
  • Remove cats from canyons and other sensitive areas.
    Our homes, businesses, roads, and recreation have pushed wildlife into habitat remnants, often little fragments thought of as "habitat islands." Cats are non-native predators living in high-density populations, often with human assistance. They are in direct competition with native predators like the gray fox, coyote, and bobcat. Predation by cats may be the final blow to many native reptiles, birds, and mammals. It is our duty to restore and maintain a natural balance in the habitat that is left. Call your local office of the San Diego County Animal Control Department for help.

Cats! | Exhibits