Cat lovers have stepped up to the plate against the Polish institute behind this classification.
A prestigious Polish scientific institution recently made headlines in its country by classifying the common cat as ” invasive alien species “. This classification, which nevertheless rests on solid and pragmatic foundations, nevertheless aroused surprisingly strong reactions from a part of the public who did not understand the ins and outs of this decision.
The story relayed by the Associated Press began when Wojciech Solarz, a biologist from the Polish Academy of Sciences, integrated the cat into this famous database of “ invasive alien species “. It is important to note that the term ” alien does not have the same meaning at all in the language of Shakespeare, which serves as the basis for scientific publications.
A species “exotic” and “invasive“
This word does not indicate that researchers consider the cat to be an alien species. In this context, it means any living being (plant, animal, or even microorganism) not endemicthat is, it does not does not live naturally in this ecosystem. However, the majority of paleontological studies believe that the cat was initially domesticated in the Middle East; technicallyso it fits this definition.
The term ” invasive is more explicit. It refers to animals that are likely to ” cause substantial economic and/or environmental damage “. This may be a problem of competition with local species, the dispersal of pathogens, or pure and simple predation.
It is this last point that motivated the researchers to include the cat in this list. Because beneath their air of adorable stuffed animals, like all felines, they are above all almost perfect predators. Natural selection has spoiled them with a host of fearsome weapons; between their agility, their speed, their discretion, or even their extremely developed senses, their prey have lots of reasons to worry.
A potential impact on biodiversity
And it is not because they are domesticated that they will store all this arsenal, far from it. Anyone who harbors one of these adorable killing machines knows this all too well; if they have the opportunity, very many cats will be happy to go and hunt rodents or birds.
However, this situation poses a real problem — and it’s not just about the dead mouse that your companion sometimes leaves on your doormat. The concern is that cats are so good at tracking down small animals that they can have a significant impact on their ecosystem, even when domesticated.
More and more specialists now subscribe to this hypothesis. This 2020 study, for example, already estimated that this impact was significant. The researchers behind this work also suggested that it may have been sunderrated because of their pet status. Interpretations shared by Polish academics; they consider that the cat ticks absolutely all the boxes of the invasive alien species.
Cat advocates step up
Despite everything, this decision had the effect of a bomb in Poland. The information was massively relayed, and after being repeatedly chewed and spit out by social networks, it was considerably distorted. According to Solarz, some observers have squarely criticized them for wanting to have all these furry animals euthanized.
The case took on such proportions that the interested parties responded to an invitation to a televised debate in the hope of explaining their work. Solarz was opposed to an apparently quite media veterinarian, author of a book on the psychology of cats.
She rejected the conclusions of the Solarz team, which estimates that cats kill around 140 million birds in Poland. For her, the observed effects on biodiversity are solely attributable to the consequences of human activity. “ Instead, ask yourself if humans are on the list of non-invasive alien species “, she launched in a protrusion quoted by the Associated Press.
No scientific consensus yet… and cats really don’t care
She’s not entirely wrong; humans obviously have a major impact on biodiversity, and it is indisputably much greater than that of cats. Other researchers are also of this opinion; if you want to read some good arguments that go the other way, we offer you this excellent forum whose authors describe a form of “ moral panic “.
But it should also be remembered that shades are important in this kind of debate. The impact of one does not necessarily exclude that of the other, and cats can perfectly have an influence in addition to that of humans. And in this case, that doesn’t necessarily mean they represent an armada of deadly apex predators poised to decimate global biodiversity.
Pet loved or not, it is essential to take into account all eventualities to avoid harmful reasoning biases; in any case, only strictly documented scientific work will be able to decide.
Be that as it may, the researchers insisted on recalling that they were ” opposed to animal cruelty and that their classification was fully compliant with European regulations. Finally, they insist that their only practical recommendation is to limit the outings of these animals as much as possible during the bird breeding season.
While waiting for a consensus, what is certain is that this debate will not prevent cats from doing as they please by going to bite a bird from time to time!