Science

Cats classified as 'invasive alien species' by Polish institute

There is a growing scientific consensus that domestic cats have a harmful impact on biodiversity given the number of birds and mammals they hunt and kill.

Polish Academy of Sciences cites damage domestic cats cause to birds, other wildlife

A cat at the 'Miau Café' in Warsaw, Poland, snacks on a cake in this 2018 file photo. A Polish scientific institute has classified domestic casts as an 'invasive alien species' due to the damage they inflict on birds and other wildlife, drawing backlash from some cat lovers. (Czarek Sokolowski/The Associated Press)

A Polish scientific institute has classified domestic cats as an "invasive alien species," citing the damage they cause to birds and other wildlife.

Some cat lovers have reacted emotionally to this month's decision and put the key scientist behind it on the defensive.

Wojciech Solarz, a biologist at the state-run Polish Academy of Sciences, wasn't prepared for the disapproving public response when he entered Felis catus, the scientific name for the common house cat, into a national database run by the academy's Institute of Nature Conservation. 

The database already had 1,786 other species listed with no objections, Solarz told The Associated Press. Invasive alien species No. 1,787, however, is a creature so beloved that it often is honoured in Poland's pet cemeteries, often reserved for cats and dogs. 

Solarz described the growing scientific consensus that domestic cats can have a harmful impact on biodiversity, given the number of birds and mammals they hunt and kill.

Domestic cats have been cited as having a harmful impact on biodiversity, given the number of birds and mammals they hunt and kill. (Vadim Ghirda/The Associated Press)

The criteria for including the cat among alien invasive species, "are 100 per cent met by the cat," he said. 

In a television segment aired by independent Polish broadcaster TVN24, the biologist faced off last week against a veterinarian who challenged Solarz's conclusion on the dangers cats pose to wildlife.

Dorota Suminska, the author of a book titled The Happy Cat, pointed to other causes of shrinking biodiversity, including a polluted environment and urban building facades that can kill birds in flight.

"Ask if man is on the list of non-invasive alien species," Suminska said, arguing that cats were unfairly assigned too much blame.

Solarz said that some media reports about the listing created a false impression that the institute was calling for feral and other cats to be euthanized. Earlier this month, his institute published a post on its website citing the "controversy" and seeking to clarify its position. The institute stressed that it was "opposed to any cruelty toward animals."

It also argued that its classification was in line with European Union guidelines.

As far as categorizing cats as "alien," the institute noted that Felis catus was domesticated probably around 10,000 years ago in the cradle of the great civilizations of the ancient Middle East, making the species alien to Europe from a strictly scientific point of view.

The institute also stressed that all it was recommending was for cat owners to limit the time their pets spend outdoors during bird breeding season.

"I have a dog, but I don't have anything against cats," Solarz said.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now