Monday 9 November 2020, Johannesburg
Issued on behalf of Cats of South Africa
Cats of South Africa (CoSA), a network of feline welfare groups and organisations, is shocked and disappointed by the Carte Blanche documentary (‘KittyCams’, Sunday, 8th Nov) that contained distorted and exaggerated information about the impact of domestic cats on indigenous wildlife. We fear that this will lead to an escalation in cruelty towards cats.
CoSA contacted the producers before the programme was scheduled to air and requested that the troublesome allegations contained in the programme should be highlighted as contested and controversial.
We requested the right of reply on behalf of cat welfare, mainly because we are the organisations that have to deal with the sickening cruelty perpetrated on cats whenever these controversial and largely inaccurate studies receive publicity.
Instead, Carte Blanche presented them as undisputed fact. We find this irresponsible and reprehensible, and we condemn the producers for allowing such editorial vandalism to take place.
Cats have for centuries been the focus of almost unbelievable persecution due to superstition and flawed ‘science’. Our main concern, therefore, was that there was a proportion of the population that would use the Carte Blanche documentary as an excuse to kill cats.
Our fears were well founded: the response was immediate. Within minutes of the documentary being aired, the first threat to cats was posted on social media:
We, as an organisation, have been aware for quite some time of the controversial UCT study on which the Carte Blanche documentary was based. Not only was the study based on low response rates and a small population size, but the conclusions and extrapolations were shown to be gravely flawed. See http://www.voxfelina.com/2020/
Carte Blanche did not include our objections to the study, focussing rather on sensation than fact. So we wish to point out the following:
- Cats fitted with the so-called KittyCams were confirmed by owners to be active hunters. Cats that don’t hunt or seldom hunt were not included in the study.
- A correction factor of 5.56 was applied: first, to all free-roaming pet cats and secondly across all prey species. This resulted in the bizarre situation of the findings of the study contradicting its own recorded figures. (For example, only 15 mammals were predated over the 10 years of the study, but should the correction factor be applied, that number would be inflated to 56 – nearly four times the actual figure recorded.) The number of pet cats assumed to be living in Cape Town was also a complete guess.
- Regarding the conclusion that cats are a major threat to endemic species and responsible for large-scale environmental damage, we wish to point out that, of the three endemic species mentioned in the study (none of which are listed as threatened), only 4 specimens formed part of the prey count of 423 animals studied over 10 years, and those species are described by the 2016 International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) as ‘locally/relatively common’ in the area concerned.
- With regard to the impact of cats on the environment, the study showed no obvious impact on the populations of the species concerned. The fact that predation rates are only meaningful in the context of prey availability was not considered at all.
- With regard to birds, there are numerous studies showing that when the cat is removed from an environment, rat numbers tend to spike. And rats have a more detrimental effect on bird numbers, as they predate on birds’ eggs as well.
- The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has stated the following: ‘Despite the large numbers of birds killed by cats in gardens, there is no clear scientific evidence that such mortality is causing bird populations to decline. … There is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds’.
- The World Animal Foundation came to the following conclusion: ‘A careful analysis of the science concludes there is no strong support for the viewpoint that cats are a serious threat to wildlife.’
While CoSA was established to speak on behalf of cats, we are also environmentalists in favour of general sustainability of our wildlife, birds, habitats and environment. We do not advocate cat rights at the expense of other animals, but we do try to combat bad science, superstition, wrongful perceptions, cruelty to animals, and unsustainable and inhumane methods of animal population control. We also strongly support responsible pet ownership.
Our greatest enemy is sensation, inaccuracy and misinformation. We base our policies and work on facts not fiction. We work tirelessly to combat cruelty to cats, and the irresponsible Carte Blanche story has set our work back years.
For further comment or enquiry, please contact Anneke Malan, 083 327 0365, or Niki Moore, 071 932 8925
This media release was issued by Cats of South Africa, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.