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Exeter study into killer cats

Blame my owner (courtesy: Strogoscope/Creative Commons)

Five types of owner of hunter-killers

Cat owners fall into five categories in terms of their attitudes to their pets’ roaming and hunting, according to a new research from Exeter University.

They've studied UK cat owners and found five types:

  • Concerned Protectors: focused on cat safety
  • Freedom Defenders: prioritise cat independence and oppose restrictions on behaviour
  • Tolerant Guardians: believe outdoor access is important for cats but dislike their hunting
  • Conscientious Caretakers: feel some responsibility for managing their cat’s hunting
  • Laissez-faire Landlords: were largely unaware of the issues surrounding roaming and hunting behaviour

Most pet cats kill very few wild animals, if any, but with a population of around 10 million cats, the numbers of birds, small mammals and reptiles taken, can accumulate.  Apart from their role as ‘mousers’, most owners find the dead animals brought home an unpleasant reminder of their pet’s wilder side. Addressing this problem has been difficult because of disagreements between people prioritising cat welfare and those focusing on wildlife conservation.

The Exeter team’s ongoing research project ‘Cats, Cat Owners and Wildlife’ aims to find a conservation win-win, by identifying ways of owners managing their cats that benefit the cats as well as reducing wildlife killing.  This research is a step towards understanding how cat owners view their cats and how best to manage them. 

The University of Exeter’s "Cats, Cat Owners and Wildlife" project works with cat owners to identify practical means of reducing cat predation on wildlife, without compromising, and potentially enhancing, cat welfare. The project’s advisory group comprises independent experts in feline health and behaviour, and representation from International Cat Care and the RSPCA. It is sponsored by SongBird Survival, a bird charity.

The researchers say their findings demonstrate the need for diverse management strategies that reflect the differing perspectives of cat owners.
"Although we found a range of views, most UK cat owners valued outdoor access for their cats and opposed the idea of keeping them inside to prevent hunting," said lead author Dr Sarah Crowley of the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute. Cat confinement policies are therefore unlikely to find support among owners in the UK.”

“However, only one of the owner types viewed hunting as a positive, suggesting the rest might be interested in reducing it by some means. To be most effective, efforts to reduce hunting must be compatible with owners' diverse circumstances."

Suggested measures to reduce hunting success include fitting cats with brightly coloured “birdsbesafe” collar covers. Many owners also fit their cats with bells.

The research team is now examining the effectiveness of these and other new measures and how owners feel about them, with a view to offering different solutions. 

The paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, is entitled: "Diverse perspectives of cat owners indicate barriers to and opportunities for managing cat predation of wildlife." 

Alongside the survey, the researchers have created a  quiz so cat owners can find out which category bests describes them. It's at:



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