In the United States, domestic cats kill up to 4 billion birds and 22 billion small mammals every year. These deaths exceed other man-made causes of wildlife mortality like accidental poisoning and habitat destruction and pose an imminent threat to the health and diversity of wildlife. Scientists have developed a gene therapy contraceptive for cats that could reduce these deaths. One solution is to rein in cat fertility—the treatment is easy to administer and lasts a lifetime.

Words from National Geographic / Connie Chang

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A team led by David Pepin, a reproductive biologist from Harvard, and William Swanson (above), the director of animal research at the Cincinnati Zoo, has developed a novel and safe method of gene therapy contraception to control the population of cats—including pets, feral cats, and community cats, which are fed by people but do not belong to an owner.

“On some islands, populations of feral cats run amok without predators,” leading to the extinction of native mammals, reptiles, and birds, says Roland Kays, an ecologist and mammal conservationist at North Carolina State University. Kays, who has studied the hunting range of pet cats, notes that neighborhoods that border nature preserves or beaches can be particularly problematic for vulnerable, endangered species.

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