Feral cats hunting down lizards in the Yucatan

By Tiffany Chen
Medill Reports

Quintana Roo, Mexico – The lush forests, cobalt  blue waters and and rich biodiversity leaves the tourists in awe in the Yucatan Peninsula. Yet, over the past 20 years, locals and tourists at the coastal town  of Akumal noticed a drop in the population of lizards. And stray cats are to blame.

Something rattled in the bush. A cat with a grey-speckled coat gazed intensely into the green. Tip-toeing towards a tropical bush, the cat lowered its shoulder-blade making its belly closer to the floor. It stopped. It pounced. And it turned towards me. There, a gecko- looking reptile, waved its limbs and squirmed between the cat’s teeth. The cat held the amphibian hard enough so it couldn’t escape and light enough, so the cat didn’t kill it. I thought I’d just witnessed a lion hunting an antelope in the safari. But for these cats, the hunt isn’t for food, necessarily. It’s for sport.

Domestic cats are listed among the “100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species” in many areas, according to the Invasive Species Specialist Group. An estimated 1.4-3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals are killed annually in the U.S. by feral cats who have shed domestic life. These cats are posing threats to birds, amphibians and small mammals around the world.

Many of the cats in the Yucatan Peninsula prey on juveniles of different lizards. Without the lizards to mature and reproduce, it can cause a decrease in the populations of lizard and have a hazardous impact on the ecology. A new study published in Biological Conservation in June provided some clue to the correlation between reptile populations and the feral cats. Scientists noticed a rapid increase of reptiles in the tropical savanna of northern Australia after the exclusion of feral cats.

Although there have been observations and scientific studies on how feral cats negatively impacts the wildlife, Yucatan still lacks official statistics on the number of feral cats and assessments on the impact. Both the locals and scientists call for surveys and control.

Photo at top: Mexican stray cat. Aug. 23, 2018. (Tiffany Chen/MEDILL)