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Let’s educate the cats

Posted on Nov 4, 2013

We here at RTPI care a lot about advancing education as we work with children and adults, students and teachers, researchers and communities in a wide variety of programs and initiatives. You can see more here on our education page. We use our website and this blog, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and more to help advance this mission. One group that we have not worked hard enough to educate is one I plan to focus on going forward – the cats.

Cats, or Felis catus as some of them prefer to be referred to as, are notoriously difficult students. They dislike having to sit through long classes and lectures and prefer to learn in their own paws-on sort of way. Cats on the whole are nearly always engrossed in the natural world, and they have a keen sense and knowledge of avian and mammalian biology. A number of cats are also expert herpetologists. Regardless of their preferred field most cats are opportunistic learners who conduct far more field experiments than we would prefer on their own. I routinely hear from cat owners who simply cannot convince their beloved family members that they are not scientists like the cats. No, these people do not need a bird, snake, chipmunk, mouse or anything else left by their door or brought back inside to observe and test.

House cat (note collar) conducting field studies in the Clay Pond Wildlife Management Area

House cat (note collar) conducting field studies in the Clay Pond Wildlife Management Area

One of my goals at RTPI is to teach these cats that they have to have a little more respect for wildlife. They are eager explorers, and while I hate harnessing that enthusiasm, the time has to come regulate what the cats are permitted to study. They should never venture outdoors on their own, and if they even set paw on the grass they should be on a leash – that way their owner won’t get lost trying to keep up with all of the science in action. They should certainly never be allowed to obtain samples without a permit to do so. Cats are estimated to kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 12 billion small mammals each year in the United States. It does not matter if a cat has decided to live with a family or strike out on their own as all cats kill wildlife. Yes, they may seem cuddly, sweet and affectionate, but each and every one of them has a strong desire to hunt and collect prey — I mean, research specimens.

A number of cats have decided to call me an owner in my life, and in every case these cats have had that instinct, taking care of every creature that ever strayed into the home laboratory. Field biology across the United States wilderness is a dangerous profession for the cats as they’re exposed to a multitude of diseases, pollution and chemicals, human vehicles, ticks and fleas, immoral people, the perils of the elements, and wildlife that may not enjoy being studied such as the skunk, fox, coyote, raccoon or even owls. The cats often argue with one another over who is on whose turf with scientific squabbles ending in potentially fatal ways. Sources vary on the exact numbers but most cats that remain behind the desk live well into their teens or even to 20 or more while those who hit the field on a daily or constant basis live only a few years on average due to this litany of occupational hazards.

We humans have an undeniable and absolute obligation to ensure that the cats we know receive a proper education and are locked in the lab at home 24 hours a day. This is an obligation not only to the environment but to our dear friends as well. It is a win-win-win scenario for them, us, and wildlife when we follow this very simple philosophy.


Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator

Photo © Scott Kruitbosch