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Outdoor cats are easy prey for coyotes

Cats are known as hunters but when coyotes come on the scene, cats who go outdoors become the prey.

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Cat lover Lisa Harris used to let her seven felines roam outdoors – until she saw a coyote waltzing across her front yard. Since then, Dr. Harris, a wildlife biologist who lives in Tucson, Ariz., has kept her cats indoors 24/7.

Long seen as miniature backyard hunters preying on everything from rabbits, birds, and mice to lizards, house cats have in some areas become the hunted, new research indicates.

In a new study of coyotes living among people in the heart of Tucson, cats were the coyotes’ most common meal, making up 42 percent of their diet, university researchers reported in the Journal of Wildlife Management. Among scores of confrontations between coyotes and cats, cats were killed more than half the time.

Birding organizations such as the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), which estimates that free-roaming cats kill more than 100 million birds each year, were quick to encourage cat owners to keep cats inside.

That’s something many cat owners are loath to do. It’s long been known that coyotes attack pets, but there’s also a sense that cats can scamper up a tree if they sense danger, says Harris.

That vastly understates the danger, she says. “A coyote can jump a six-foot fence and take a small dog or cat and be back in a flash – do it right in front of you.”

Past research has indicated that the number of pets lost to wild predators is relatively small. But the new study, combined with the expansion of coyotes into suburban and urban areas nationwide, has researchers suggesting the threat to pets, especially cats, is much greater than realized.

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