Feral Cats vs. Urban Coyotes
Stray cats and urban coyotes often thrive in cities because of the availability of food and lack of enemies. But when faced against each other, a feral cat is no match for a coyote and according to a new study, outdoor cats do their best to steer clear of these urban wolves.
Because cats have been found to dodge these coyotes, research suggests that in turn, the cats cause less damage to wildlife in urban green spaces, such as city parks and nature preserves.
"Free-roaming cats are basically partitioning their use of the urban landscape. They're not using the natural areas in cities very much because of the coyote presence there," said the study's lead author, Stan Gehrt, associate professor of environment and natural resources at The Ohio State University.
"It reduces the cats' vulnerability to coyotes, but at the same time, it means the coyotes are essentially protecting these natural areas from cat predation," he said.
The study, which was published recently in the online journal PLOS ONE, is the first to show how coyotes and free-roaming cats share space and interact with each other in urban areas.
Gehrt and his colleagues monitored the health, home ranges, habitat selections and other characteristics of 39 feral and stray cats near six parks and nature preserves in greater Chicago. The Chicago area has some of the densest populations of coyotes ever recorded.
The scientists found that most of the cats shunned the urban coyotes' "core activity areas" — fragments of natural habitat within the city, as represented by the study's parks and nature preserves.
Instead, the cats restricted their own core activities to developed parts of the city, such as near homes and shops. Core activity areas are the areas within an animal's home range where the animal spends most of its time and concentrates most of its activities, including hunting.
"Coyotes essentially exclude cats from natural habitat fragments in cities either directly through predation or indirectly through the threat of predation," said Gehrt. "The cats avoid these areas."
Coyotes are known to prey on free-roaming cats, whether ferals, strays or pets, while free-roaming cats, on the whole, have been shown to kill great numbers of birds, small rodents and reptiles.
The study also concludes that the feral cats live longer and are healthier than previously thought.
In all, the findings paint both animals in a more positive light, Gehrt said.
Read more at The Ohio State University.
Stray cat image via Shutterstock.