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Jon Cox

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Cats pose a serious threat to biodiversity: Why do we accept it? What should be done?

According to the ASPCA, there are around 90 million owned domestic cats (Felis catus) in the U.S., and taking into account strays and feral cats, the total number is estimated to be as high as 160 million (1). Loss et al. (2013) estimates that cats roaming outdoors kill 1.4-­3.7 BILLION birds and 6.9­-20.7 BILLION mammals in the U.S. annually (2). Reptiles and amphibians such as snakes, lizards, frogs, etc., are also frequently killed by cats.

Cats are even more popular New Zealand, where they are contributing to declines of endemic birds such as the critically endangered kakapo (3), which have evolved in the absence of predators. Businessman/philanthropist Gareth Morgan is trying to gather support for legislation that would aggressively deal with stray and feral cats and potentially eliminate cats from New Zealand to take pressure off of threatened species (4 & 5). With Morgan’s plan, in addition to regulation that would reduce cat populations and increase owner accountability, residents would be encouraged to not replace their cats. As of now the majority of New Zealanders surveyed are in opposition to Morgan’s initiative.

Would a proposition like Morgan’s meet similar resistance in the U.S.? Probably, but is he on the right track? Would you personally support something like it for your state or country? Why or why not is it a good idea? Is this type of legislation necessary to curb the problem and protect wildlife? If you disagree, what are some alternatives? Will the aesthetics and familiarity of cats keep them off limits to such ideas in the opinions of the general public?

1. http://www.aspca.org/about-us/faq/pet-statistics.aspx
2. http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats/pdf/Loss_et_al_2013.pdf
3. http://www.avianweb.com/kakapo.html
4. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/01/24/170191917/new-zealand-environmentalist-wants-to-eliminate-cats-to-save-birds
5. http://www.livescience.com/26525-cat-eradication-new-zealand-save-birds.html

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Closing Statement from Jon Cox

Thanks to everyone who contributed to a thought provoking discussion!

I think we can all agree that we need to be responsible with our pets! For the sake of ecological and human health. And pet owners must realize that their carelessness is costly. Plans to completely eliminate cats from areas where they are very popular are pretty far fetched, but stricter regulation is a must, and domestic cats do NOT belong in the wild, period. Feral cats need to be seen and dealt with just as any other invasive species. However, extreme caution is necessary in any attempt to remove them where they have become established as a keystone species.

Check out Australian cat laws for a look at the legislation adopted by a people who cherish their native wildlife and do not want to see it be destroyed by invasives.

And lastly, we must keep in mind that invasive species are just one way in which we threaten biodiversity. Overexploitation and especially habitat loss pose even greater threats to species survival.

Thanks again!

Jon

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    May 6 2013: Cats are made to kill. It's what they do. We have domesticated a creature that is genetically predisposed to stalk and kill. If we do not allow the cat to stalk and kill it becomes neurotic. We then bag and drown them, or turn them loose in the park. Our local riparian park had a population of burrowing owls who thrived for a few years then suddenly began to disappear. Park officials determined feral cats were killing the owls faster than they could reproduce. Now all we have is many vacant owl nests and scores of mangy, diseased killer cats prowling the park. If anyone was caught trying to take it upon themself to remedy the situation they would be criminally prosecuted and vilified on the evening news. Cat lovers unite and control your cats just as dog owners are legally bound to control theirs.
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      May 7 2013: It sounds like you know something about cats, which I don't. Is this dependent on type of cat? For example, my sister has three indoor cats that aren't neurotic at all. They obviously are not killing things.

      I do know something about dogs. It is in their nature to chase things and to chew on things and even tear them apart. So one gives them things (not owls!) that are okay to chew, chase, and even tear apart. Otherwise, they would likely find something in the house to chew and destroy.

      Does it not work for cats?
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        May 7 2013: I am guilty of generalizing a bit Fritzie. I'm sure my scenario does not describe 100% of the world's domesticated cats. But it does describe the scenario that leads to the elimination of other species from a given location. It is a very real problem. Next time you visit your sister take a little bird or a mouse with you and watch the emergence of the cat's natural behaviors which your sister has so successfully suppressed. Dogs might kill to survive, or if bred specifically to be violent. As evidenced by the dead, dismembered, but uneaten birds in my yard cats stalk and kill for practice, it's what they do naturally. I cannot have bird feeders in my own yard because neighborhood cat owners do not control their furry little cold-blooded killers. Ugly but true.
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          May 7 2013: My yard has lots of squirrels and birds but never cats. Woodland critters have no fear of my dog, but cats do.
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      May 7 2013: Honestly, I have always kept indoor-only cats (it is safer and healthier for them) and they have never gone neurotic. You replace their natural prey with cat toys and they can stalk and kill just as they please, it is a perfect substitute. While cats were made to kill, not all of them still know how to. Some of my cats in the past have been very good at alerting us when a strange critter has entered the house, and they may show interest and play with it, but when it comes down to the killing part they are clueless. It is true, however, that once a cat has been roaming outside and you try to confine it indoors it will beg to go outside and may become neurotic. But if they are raised indoors and never taken outside, no problems.

      Edward, you bring up a very interesting point about the rules dog owners face. Why is it that dog owners have many laws that control their pets (from leash laws to breed bans) but cat owners have none? A curious discrepancy...

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