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Cats versus rats in the streets of New York

Credits: Wikimedia Commons

A first of it’s kind study looking into the success of cats preying on rat colonies reveals that rodents manage to avoid getting caught a lot better than you might think.  

Known for their formidable stealth, cats are excellent predators and in particular for catching birds.  In fact this is a problem in a number of towns.  But are cats just as stealthy when trying to catch rats? Although cats have often been used to control rat populations, until now no study has really focused on their influence.  This first of it’s kind study was carried out in a waste and recycling centre in New York.

We wanted to know if the number of cats in the waste centre would influence the number of rats found there and vice versa,” explained Doctor Michael H. Parsons from the University of Fordham, USA and the leading author of the study published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

Researchers explain that they observed the behaviour of a 100-strong rat population using electronic chips in an area where three stray cats lived.  When these two animals confront one another the cat is the clear winner. However during the 79 day observation period, only three attacks were attempted, and only two rats were killed

“Like all prey, rats are prepared for the risks of being hunted. While cats are present they adjust their behavioral habits so that they become less visible and and spend more time in their burrows,” explains the researcher.  “This raises questions as to whether cats being released in the city to control rats is worth the risk that cats pose for wildlife.

Cats seem to be relatively inefficient at controlling rat populations simply because the rodents are good at hiding.  “People see less rats in the streets thinking that it is because cats have killed them, whereas in fact it is due to the fact that these rodents have changed their behvaioural habits,” concluded the researcher.

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