DOMESTIC cats and dogs have been given an amnesty by the Department of the Environment (DoE) and are not being considered as invasive species in Northern Ireland under its current eco-protection policy.
Both the Mammal Society and the RSPB have considered the impact of Felis catus - non-native to these islands - on native mammal and bird populations.
As far back as 1997 the Mammal Society looked at cat predation in the United Kingdom and found that of 14,370 prey items reported to have been brought home by 986 cats living in 618 households mammals made up 69 per cent of the items, birds 24 per cent, amphibians 4 per cent, reptiles 1 per cent, fish less than 1 per cent, and invertebrates 1 per cent.
The society found 44 native species of wild bird, 20 native species of wild mammal, three native species of reptile and three native species of amphibian were killed by cats.
The Mammal Society has also estimated that the UK’s cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 55 million are birds.
But the RSPB says there is no evidence falling bird populations and cat predation are related.
It says: “Despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide. “This may be surprising, but many millions of birds die naturally every year, mainly through starvation, disease, or other forms of predation.
“There is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds.”
The Sentinel asked the DoE if in compiling its Invasive Species position statement domestic animals were considered as invasive; technically they are.
A spokesperson replied: “Whilst there are potentially many species which are variously referred to as ‘domesticated’, DOE considers domestic cats and dogs to be outside the scope of the Invasive species position statement and policy.”
The paper asked if the DoE or its arms length bodies considered predation by domestic animals - including cats and dogs - in forming its policy?
The spokesperson responded: “The DOE policy relates to Invasive Alien species. As such, cats and dogs were not considered, and in the absence of clarification of exactly what ‘domestic animals’ are being referred to DOE cannot provide further detail.”
The Sentinel asked if the DoE or its arms length bodies carried out any studies or surveys looking at predation by domestic animals such as cats and dogs and its impact on native species.
“No such studies have been undertaken by DoE,” the spokesperson replied.