Over the past decade, a mysterious wave of cat killings swept through two cities in Alberta, Canada. Ever-increasing numbers of mutilated remains were being discovered in playgrounds and back alleys. Neighborhoods would regularly wake up to find decapitated cats on their front lawns. With the body count steadily rising, the story caught the attention of police and the local media. Fears started to mount that a cult was on the loose.
In a recent study, published in the journal Veterinary Pathology, scientists from the University of Alberta investigated this curious case and asked the question: “Coyotes or Cults?” Based on 53 necropsies of dead cats found around the cities of Edmonton and St Albert between 2007 and 2016, the scientists conclude that the unusual killings were the result of hungry coyotes.
Over 68 percent of the cases were consistent with coyote predation, while a further 15 percent were killed by “massive blunt trauma”, most likely a car collision. None of the injuries were consistent with bored teenagers with a taste for black metal or young psychopaths training to become serial killers.
It also appears that the cat killings predominately happened at the end of summer, with 80 percent occurring in August and September. By no coincidence, this is a time when coyotes are most active and adult cats are most likely to be out hunting as there is an abundance of small rodents. Especially in the early days of the scare, periodic media reports were also closely linked to a sharp spike in detection rates.
While these findings might not come as a huge surprise, fears of evil cat-killing cults are not isolated to Alberta. Residents of Orange County in Calfornia have been complaining about the problem since the 1980s. Similar accounts have been reported in southwest Florida. Readers in the UK might also be aware of the “Croydon cat killer”, a suspected individual believed to have killed over 400 cats in an area of south London.
Needless to say, no one has ever been found guilty of these particular cat mutilations in the US or the UK. The Metropolitan Police closed their investigation into the supposed Croydon cat killer, concluding the deaths were primarily due to vehicle collisions with the bodies then being scavenged by red foxes.
Another recent study by the National Park Service looked at over 3,000 poops of urban coyotes in Los Angeles and found that domestic cats make up around 20 percent of their diet.
It would be foolish to generalize all of the cases of feline serial killers. However, as the recent Canadian study concludes, mutilation by humans should only be suspected if the necropsies show absolutely no signs of a run-in with coyotes, foxes, or any other city-dwelling predator. If in doubt, blame it on the canines, not a cult.