Interesting research in The Times which caught the eye not so much because of what it says, but the timing as Sands and I have been talking recently about how we can get more involved with helping the rescue cats here in the UK.
Discussions are very much ongoing, but the report has firmed our resolve to help somehow.
Nearly a quarter of a million stray cats are roaming Britain’s towns and cities, according to the first study to attempt to count them.
The domestic cat, or Felis catus, has long been recognised as an adept urban opportunist. Within a single generation, lost pets can adopt a successful feral lifestyle. Given access to the right resources, they are capable of becoming extremely prolific breeders.
The new study shows that there are, on average, about nine unowned cats per sq km in urban areas in England. Population levels can vary widely, however, from fewer than two cats per sq km to as many as 57.
The study relied on cat sightings from experts and volunteers that were collected over a period of a year from 162 sites across five urban areas – Bradford, Dunstable and Houghton Regis, Everton, Beeston and Bulwell.
The patterns of sightings suggested that areas with more humans tended to have more cats. More food being available is a likely explanation, the researchers said. Cat populations also tended to be higher in the most deprived areas, which may reflect a lower likelihood of pet cats being neutered, which prevents breeding.
To reach the final estimate, statistics on human populations across the UK were combined with the sighting data. The count included both abandoned or lost cats that were previously owned, as well as unsocialised feral cats.
There are estimated to be about ten million pet cats across the UK. More than 40,000 stray cats were already known to enter UK shelters every year.
Jenni McDonald, a feline epidemiologist for Cats Protection and lead author of the research, said: “Up to now, there haven’t been any evidence-based estimates of the number of stray and feral cats in the UK. It has previously posed a challenge in part because of problems accurately distinguishing owned from unowned cats.
“However, our population-modelling methodology offers a solution [and] gives us a robust means to study unowned cat populations nationally. This is a major step towards understanding the true scale of the feral and stray cat population in the UK.”
The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.