Estimating the Population of Unowned Free-Ranging Domestic Cats in Denmark
Nielsen, H.B., Jensen, H.A., Meilby, H., Nielsen, S.S., & Sandøe, P. (2022).
Unowned free-ranging domestic cats divide opinion. Some people object to them. They dislike the noise they cause and disapprove when they find their faeces in gardens and public places. Others are concerned about the cats’ welfare. It is widely believed that the number of unowned unsocialised cats (alleged to be 500,000) and additional unowned socialised cats in Denmark is huge. To assess whether this belief is correct, this study estimated the size of the population of unowned free-ranging domestic cats and their distribution in Denmark using a combination of questionnaires and GPS tracking. It was estimated that approximately 90,000 unowned cats are in the country, and that one-third are socialised and two-thirds unsocialised. It seems therefore that the number of free-ranging cats in Denmark that are unowned and unsocialised is only a fraction of that claimed, and that panic is unwarranted. The highest population density of unowned cats was found in rural areas.
The present study aimed (1) to estimate the size of the population of unowned free-ranging domestic cats in Denmark using a questionnaire survey combined with a GPS-tracking survey, and (2) to estimate the distribution of the population across different habitats. The questionnaires were circulated in 94 randomly selected parishes ranging across seven kinds of habitat. Using responses from five of the habitats, we estimated the population of unowned free-ranging cats nationally. In the other two habitats, questionnaire data were collected in a simpler way. The territory of 59 owned cats was estimated with GPS tracking to assess home ranges. Home range area was calculated using 95% Brownian bridge kernel density estimation (0.033–0.077 ± 0.011–0.023 km2, median ± SE). We estimated a population of unowned free-ranging cats in Denmark of 89,000 ± 11,000 (SE), with a mean density of 2 ± 0.3 (SE) cats per km2, living primarily in rural habitats. Approximately one-third of the cats were estimated to be socialised and two-thirds unsocialised. Our method may be suitable for use in other temperate areas facing problems with unowned free-ranging cats.