LONDON, June 26 (UPI) -- It's a well established fact that cats wreak havoc on wildlife. Some estimates put the number of birds and mammals killed by cats in the United States each year in the billions.
Of course, cat owners aren't having it. Studies implicating outdoor cats in significant wildlife losses have been quickly criticized and disregarded by feline lovers. As new research points out, cat owners are -- simply put -- in denial.
A new study by scientists at the University of Exeter shows that cat owners regularly underestimate their cats' kill counts, and are unwilling to acknowledge the ecological damage done by their pets.
"Our study shows that cat owners do not accept that cats are a threat to wildlife, and oppose management strategies with the exception of neutering," Jenni McDonald, a researcher at Exeter's Center for Ecology and Conservation, said in a press release.
McDonald is the co-author of a new study on the attitudes of cat owners, published this week in the journal Ecology and Evolution.
"There is a clear need to directly address the perceptions and opinions of cat owners," McDonald continued. "If we are to successfully reduce the number of wildlife deaths caused by domestic cats, the study suggests that we should use cat welfare as a method of encouraging cat owners to get involved."
In surveying cat owners in England, researchers found that owners were both unaware of their cat's likely kill count and uninfluenced (or unconvinced) by their cat's deadly effects on area wildlife.
"This study illustrates how difficult it would be to change the behaviour of cat owners if they are both unaware of how many animals are killed by their pet and resistant to control measures," said co-author Matthew Evans, an ecology professor at Queen Mary University of London.
"This presents conservationists who might be attempting to reduce cat predation with serious difficulties," Evans continued, "as owners disassociate themselves from any conservation impacts of their cat and take the view that cat predation is a natural part of the ecosystem."