Urban cat population: the limits to growth

By Whisky, the Black & White Cat

I have a shameful admission to make.

No, not the one you’re thinking. And I reject any suggestion that it is my fault. I am simply ashamed for my species: Felis domesticus.

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My admission is this. There are too many domestic cats in the world. If you are only concerned with your personal well-being, then a cat is one of the best creatures to share your house with. No other pet, when it sees you in the grip of depression, will straightaway jump onto your lap and administer emergency Reiki, purring you down and offering you its warm fur to bury your hands in. But in terms of the local environment, it is massively destructive.

My shame in admitting this is not, as I’ve said, because I accept it as being my fault as an individual, nor the fault of domestic cats in general. Wildcats are notoriously territorial, and make a point of securing as large a territory as they can in order to support themselves by hunting. Commensalism with human beings confines the territory of all but the most pushy cats to the owner’s house and garden (I’m using “owner” here in its correct sense from my perspective). This is far smaller than that secured by our nearest relatives in the wild. In compensation the cat’s pet human being supplies food enough, and reliably enough, to reduce the cat’s basic daily activity in the wild state – hunting – to the status of a pastime. This burdens the average suburban environment with a considerably bigger cat population than is good for it, with consequent major harm to the indigenous wildlife – as the blackbirds never fail to remind me with their incessant “quis-quis-quis” whenever I go roaming in the gloaming.

Nor is this problem confined to cats. Sir David Attenborough, addressing the RSA in 2011, declared that there was no single global problem which would not be easier to solve if there were fewer people. And which will not become harder to solve, to the point it becomes impossible, with continuing growth in world population. He also exposed a public conspiracy of silence on the whole issue. Global warming is finally getting the popular debate it merits, and has merited for the last 30 years – which is how long science has known about it. But few of those proclaiming the urgent need for action dare to link it with its underlying problem: the ongoing and progressive growth in world human population.

Now even the best of human companions – and family loyalty dictates that I should mention Ian in this context – evince no shame when proclaiming the need to regulate the urban cat population, even when it is they themselves who bear responsibility for its unbridled growth. Why then shouldn’t we cats go around proclaiming, with equal absence of shame, the need for human beings to submit themselves voluntarily to some form of regulation in their own numbers? In one way or another regulation will come. The choice before humanity is whether or not to make it humane.

As Sir David pointed out to the RSA, population growth is an exponential phenomenon, which by itself sets no upper bound to the size it can eventually achieve. Yet the surface area of the globe is finite, and static. If everybody in the global human population of 10 billion souls projected by 2050 opts to share his or her house with a cat, by no stretch of the imagination can the world’s environmental support systems deliver enough cans of cat food without inviting irreversible collapse.

updated: 23:30 14/11/2015