The Use of Kitty Cams to Understand the Effects of Free-Roaming Cats on Wildlife
Sonia M. Hernandez1,2*, DVM, DACZM, PhD; Clym Gatrell1, MNR; Alexandra Newton1, BS; Gary Green1, PhD; Kyler Abernathy3, MS; Kerrieanne Loyd4
1Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA; 2Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA; 3National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., USA; 4Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA
Wildlife management professionals consider cat predation to be one of the most significant anthropogenic causes of wildlife mortality. Domestic cats are efficient predators that hunt despite food subsidies, yet there is much controversy about their predation rate, their effect on populations of wildlife, and their management. We have been utilizing Kitty Cams (point-of-view camera designed by National Geographic) to quantify the interactions of both free-roaming pet cats in Athens, GA, and un-owned cats managed in trap-neuter-return colonies on Jekyll Island, GA, and wildlife. We also utilized mail surveys to elucidate public opinion about feral cat management and factors that influence perceptions. We obtained a minimum of 30 hr of video per cat in order to designate each cat as a hunter or a non-hunter. In the urban environment, 42% of pet cats hunted, primarily herpetofauna, leaving more than 25% of their prey uneaten. On Jekyll Island, 62% of cats monitored hunt, killing invertebrates, herpetofauna, small mammals and birds in decreasing order of frequency. Further work is ongoing and each hunter cat will be monitored for an additional 70 hr to focus on frequency, seasonality, and target prey species. The surveys illustrated that perceptions of people about free-roaming pet cats at both sites are not as polarized as represented by vocal minorities on either side of the spectrum. In fact, respondents support cat management, including trap and removal. However, the surveys identified significant knowledge gaps about cats and their role in the environment that should be addressed with public education campaigns. Our study will quantify the impact that free-roaming cats pose to native and migratory wildlife while producing powerful images that can be used for public education.