Quantifying free-roaming domestic cat predation using animal-borne video cameras
Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. Used by permission.
Domestic cats (Felis catus) are efficient and abundant non-native predators. Predation by domestic cats remains a topic of considerable social and scientific debate and warrants attention using improved methods. Predation is likely a function of cat behavior, opportunity to hunt, and local habitat. Previous predation studies relied on homeowner reports of wildlife captures from prey returns to the household and other indirect means. We investigated hunting of wildlife by owned, free-roaming cats in a suburban area of the southeastern USA. Specific research goals included: (1) quantifying the frequency of cat interactions with native wildlife, (2) identifying common prey species of suburban cats, and (3) examining predictors of outdoor behavior. We monitored 55 cats during a 1-year period (November 2010–October 2011) using KittyCam video cameras. Participating cats wore a video camera for 7–10 total days and all outdoor activity was recorded for analysis. We collected an average of 38 h of footage from each project cat. Forty-four percent of free-roaming cats hunted wildlife, of which reptiles, mammals, and invertebrates constituted the majority of prey. Successful hunting cats captured an average of 2.4 prey items during 7 days of roaming, with Carolina anoles (Anolis carolinensis) being the most common prey species. Most wildlife captures (85%) occurred during the warm season (March–November in the southern USA). Twenty-three percent of cat prey items were returned to households; 49% of items were left at the site of capture, and 28% were consumed. Our results suggest that previous studies of pet cat predation on wildlife using owner surveys significantly underestimated capture rates of hunting cats.