Friday 23 July 2021

Is Chris Packham a cat hater?

Dr. John Bradshaw in his book Cat Sense writes that the "British wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham, a self-confessed cat-hater, appeared on BBC radio describing cats as sly, greedy, insidious murderers and calling for them to be shot".

Chris Packham
Chris Packham. Photo in public domain.

John Bradshaw was writing about the predation of domestic cats and wildlife and how bias can sometimes be introduced into dissertations and studies by scientists on the predation of wildlife by cats. And the bias normally leans towards denigrating the cat. Perhaps the bias is inadvertent but it comes from an inherent bias within some people including scientists, sometimes.

Chris Packham's interview with Yahoo News way back on January 30, 2013 makes it clear that he is not a cat hater and that he admires the athleticism of one of the world's top predators. He doesn't want to criticise the cat per se but he wants to criticise the people who own cats and who don't take sufficient steps to ensure that their companion animals do not prey on wildlife.

He was responding, in the interview, to an article at that time about a Nature Communications study which claimed that in America domestic and non-owned cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals annually. It was claimed that cats were more dangerous to wildlife than traffic accidents, pesticides and poison all together!

Dr. Bradshaw, by the way, said that in one study about the impact of cats on wildlife in the UK and which was carried out in 1997, the questionnaire sent out to cat owners was inherently biased. That study produced an estimate of 275 million animals killed in Britain each year by pet cats. He claims that the questionnaire was designed in a way which encouraged the people who completed it to submit their results only if their cat had brought in some prey during the five months of the survey. This introduced bias. The problem is that this figure of 275 million is still widely quoted by many influential organisations such as the RSPB, the British Trust for Ornithology and the Bat Conservation Trust. What is not fact, becomes fact over time and it is the cat who becomes a victim.

The answer to the question the title is that Chris Packham is not a cat hater but he wants cats to wear collars which he believes would reduce the predation rates on birds and animals by 45%. He also claims that if pet cats were kept in at night it would reduce predation rates on birds and animals by 50%. And he also says that a problem is that "cat owners do not neuter their pets". Well, I think a lot of them do neuter their pets but there are some who don't and as usual there is a minority of cat owners who are irresponsible.

Chris Packham believes that there are too many cats in the UK. I don't think we know how many cats there are in the UK! The same applies to America and other countries. We make estimates but we don't know exact figures. In 2010 it was estimated that there would over 10 million owned cats in the UK but the Yahoo News article states that the number had shrunk to 8 million.

But we have to add the recent surge in pet ownership during the coronavirus pandemic. I have read that there has been an increase of 3.2 million companion animals in UK homes over the 16 months of social distancing. That's an extraordinary increase but once again I suspect that these are estimates that we can't truly rely on.

Obviously, reducing the number of pet cats in the UK will reduce the number of animals that they kill. That is the simple argument of Chris Packham. It's an argument which is undeniable whereas proposal such as registration of domestic cats, limiting the number of cats that somebody owns, mandatory sterilisation and curfews might not lead to a recovery in local wildlife says Dr. John Bradshaw.

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