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Ecologist Michael H. Parsons from Fordham University had planned to study rat pheromones and how they affect rat behavior. But after Michael and his team secured the location for their research, they realized there was going to be one big problem.
The rat-infested recycling plant in Brooklyn, New York, also had a very large population of feral cats. They researchers quickly realized that getting the rid of the cats was a fool’s game, and decided to realign their research focus. Parsons explains to Scientific American, “At some point we just said, ‘Wait a second, we don’t know what the rats will do around the cats.’”
They set up cameras all around the recycling facility and began documenting the interactions between cats and rats. Surprisingly, after analyzing more than 300 videos of cats and rats, what they found did not support the common belief of cats being the ultimate exterminators.
Parsons tells Scientific American, “The cats didn’t really bother [doing anything] when the rats were on the open floor.”
The cats who killed rats were actually few and far between, Scientific American says. “In the hundreds of videos there were only three kills (“all ambushes,” according to Parsons) and 20 stalking events. The cats had no real effect on the rat population, Parsons says.”
Parsons and his colleagues did notice that the rats behaved more cautiously when cats were present. According to Scientific American, other researchers who focus on feline and rodent interactions have commented and are not surprised by the findings. Cats will typically choose easy prey, and rats tend to be larger and more formidable foes.
This doesn’t mean that working cat programs aren’t worth it. Scientific American explains that, “organizations like the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals say programs putting feral cats to work are not entirely about pest control—and can sometimes be more about finding a home for neutered feral cats that cannot be adopted for various reasons.”
So while these cats may not be the ultimate pest control machines, providing a home for a feral cat is still a worthwhile and worthy choice.
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