Sunday, January 7, 2007

Domestic Cat Predation in Florida

Florida's native wildlife species are threatened by the growing number of free-roaming owned, stray, and feral domestic cats. The adverse impacts of cats in Florida is best documented for threatened and endangered species, especially beach and cotton mice, the Lower Keys marsh rabbit, and the Florida Scrub-Jay. Cats also kill birds with populations in decline, such as Black Skimmer, Least Tern, and the endangered Piping Plover. Disease spread by feral cats may threaten the endangered Florida panther and other wild animals.

Florida Cat Populations
Nationwide, cat owners keep an average of two cats per household. However, in the south, there is an average of 3.2 cats per household. Mild weather permits cats to spend more time outdoors and stray and feral cats may live longer. In some areas, large numbers of un-owned cats congregate in "colonies" at garbage dumps or feeding stations where food is left out for them. Cat colonies vary from simple groups of cats, to colonies where volunteers attempt to manage the colony (see "Managed" Cat Colonies in Florida).

Cat Predation on Florida's Wildlife
No one knows how many cats roam outdoors in Florida. However, given the mild climate and high human population, it is reasonable to assume that there are millions of outdoor cats and they are killing millions of animals each year. The following is a review of cat predation on some of Florida's threatened and endangered wildlife species.

Beach Mice: Populations of beach mice are already at risk due to habitat loss, disease, and loss of genetic diversity. Domestic cat predation applies additional pressure to these fragile populations. Found only in the southeastern U. S., beach mice are important for maintaining native grasses which help stabilize the dunes. Six of the eight beach mice subspecies are federal and state listed as endangered or threatened, and one is extinct. Scientists consider predation and hurricanes to be the most important factors now affecting beach mouse survival.

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