Marra presents findings regarding cats’ impact on the environment

Jill Keskimaki, Staff Reporter

On Nov. 14, Pete Marra, biologist and director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, visited Lakeland University to discuss the impact that cats, specifically those that are outdoor pets or feral, have on the environment.

Marra’s speech reflected the findings published in his book, “Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer.” Marra clarified the term “cat wars,” stating, “It’s not a war that I have on cats. It refers to the battles that occur on various scales between groups like myself and cat advocacy groups in the denial of science.”

The data that Marra presented showed that cats are harmful to the environment. They can spread diseases to both wildlife and humans, and they are the number one killer of birds in the United States at over two billion birds per year. Cats have had an impact on the extinction of several species of birds.

Marra argued that there are too many cats that live outside and the population is growing too rapidly because cats reproduce quickly. The average female cat can have two or three litters per year.

Cat abandonment is a big issue as well. Marra mentioned the cats here on Lakeland’s campus and explained that universities are a common place for cat abandonment to happen. Students get cats without realizing the responsibilities that come along with being a pet owner, so they abandon them. Places like universities and military bases where people are not permanent have high concentrations of cat abandonment.  

“To solve this problem, we may have to kill one animal to save another,” Marra said. “In order to save the wild birds and rodents that these cats are killing, it may mean taking some of these cats and euthanizing them in humane ways. This is what makes the most sense. It’s critical.”

Even though his solution involves euthanizing a number of cats, Marra describes himself as an animal lover. While he loves cats, he urges cat owners to keep their cats inside. He explained that cats are trainable, and owners can enrich the cats’ lives by allowing them to go outdoors in a safe manner. They can be walked outside on a leash or placed in a “catio,” which is a screened-in porch.

“Anyone who owns a cat must keep their cat inside,” Marra said. “Cats do not belong outside roaming free. It’s not safe for cats to be outside. They can get hit by cars. They can contract diseases. It’s really not safe for them to be outside.”