Play With Your Cats and Feed Them Meat to Save Wildlife, Study Advises
Domestic cats are adorable human companions, but they can have a terrifying impact on birds and other wildlife. Their hunting has contributed to the extinction of 63 birds, mammals and reptiles, and they are the number one human-caused threat to birds in the U.S. and Canada, according to American Bird Conservancy.
Some scientists have cautioned that the panic over cats is overblown, and that their impact on an ecosystem depends on several factors. But to address the ways in which the needs of house cats and wildlife do conflict, scientists at the University of Exeter are researching solutions that will satisfy cat lovers and conservationists alike.
In a new study published in Current Biology Thursday, they found that playing with cats and feeding them quality, meaty food could reduce their kill count outside the home.
"While keeping cats indoors is the only sure-fire way to prevent hunting, some owners are worried about the welfare implications of restricting their cat's outdoor access," study co-author and University of Exeter Environment and Sustainability Institute professor Robbie McDonald said in a press release. "Our study shows that – using entirely non-invasive, non-restrictive methods – owners can change what the cats themselves want to do. By playing with cats and changing their diets, owners can reduce their impact on wildlife without restricting their freedom."
The researchers worked with 355 cats in 219 homes in southwestern England over a 12 week period. Some of the cats were switched to a no-grain, high meat diet and others had five to 10 minutes of play added to their daily schedule, the study explained. The high meat diet reduced the number of wild animals the cats brought home by 36 percent, while the playtime reduced that number 25 percent, compared both to a control group and to the cats' previous behavior.
High Meat Diet
Cat caretaker Lisa George, whose three-year-old tabby Minnie participated in the study, testified to the difference that diet could make.
"Minnie loves to hunt. More often than not, she will bring her prey home and let it go in the house. We've had birds in the bedroom, rats in the waste paper bin (which took us three days to catch), rabbits in the utility room," George said in the press release. "On changing Minnie's food (previously supermarket own-brand), to Lily's Kitchen, I found she hardly hunted at all. This continued the whole time she was on this food. I can honestly say I couldn't believe the difference as regards her hunting behaviour."
Overall, the researchers found that feeding cats meat reduced their kills of both birds and mammals, according to The Guardian. The researchers are not sure why the meat made such a difference, but suspect it has to do with their highly specific nutritional needs.
"They are unusually needy for some particular nutrients, some amino acids and so on, that are best provided in meat," McDonald told CNN.
Because meat production is linked to the climate crisis and other ecological concerns, study coauthor and University of Exeter Ph.D. student Martina Cecchetti said the next step was to see if the micronutrients cats get from meat could be identified and added to non-meat meals.
The play time the cats received was modeled on the length and motions of a real hunt, The Guardian explained. It lasted five to 10 minutes and involved the owners moving a feather on a string that the cats could chase and catch. After their "kill," they were given a toy mouse to play with.
The added play time reduced the cats' mammal kills, but not their bird kills. The researchers think this may be because the play typically occurred at night, when cats hunt for mammals. They typically catch birds in the morning.
The researchers now want to test if more play time would further reduce the cats' hunting, or if a combination of play and meaty meals would have a larger impact.
"We suspect that the two things are working on slightly different pathways, if you like, in the cat's behavior," McDonald told CNN.
The researchers also tested other measures used to protect wildlife from cats, according to the study. The use of puzzle feeders actually increased kills by 33 percent, while the use of Birdsbesafe collars did decrease bird kills by 42 percent, but had no impact on mammal kills. The use of cat bells did not work overall. The researchers said in the press release that their effectiveness depended on the cat, and that some learned to hunt despite them.
The research was greeted with enthusiasm by the conservation and animal welfare groups that helped fund and advise it. Cats kill around 100 million animals a year in the UK, billions in the U.S. and 230 million in Australia, The Guardian pointed out.
"This latest study we have funded is excellent news for birds," George Bradley of SongBird Survival said in the press release. "The data show that cat owners (like me) can make a few small and easy steps to really improve the health and happiness of our pets as well as make a really big difference for all our wildlife, especially our beloved songbirds. Making these easy-to-implement changes will be a win-win for birds, cats and cat owners."
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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