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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


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!


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    May 7 2013: Human pose a serious threat to biodiversity : Why don't we destroy it?

    Homo sapiens, commonly known as human pose a number of serious threat to biodiversity and many other problems to the environment. According to United Nations there are currently 7 billion people on the planet, and by the end of century the number expected to be 10 billion. This brings all kinds of problems such as food and water shortage etc.

    we are just big trouble makers an't we? If Homo sapiens becomes extinct, there will no long be questions as such, and all forms of life will flourish on Earth.
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      May 7 2013: Although a so-called "final solution" would be both romantic and effective, it will never be enacted by a sane organization or party. This seems more like a sarcastic jab at the topic than a thoughtful response, as if to imply that controlling the population of a harmful invasive species is as impractical, pointless, or undesirable as "destroy all humans," but i will indulge.

      Obviously, the most complete solution to the majority of anthropogenic environmental woes is simply "drastically decrease the population." Just as obvious, however, are the myriad new social and infrastructural problems that this would in turn create, and, even more so, the impracticality of bringing it to fruition. Killing millions or billions of people is not an option, and although "educate the public about the hazards of overpopulation" is actually a winning strategy (highly developed countries are finally seeing death rates outpace birth rates), it will take a very long time for humanity to "naturally" reach a sustainable and stable level (of course, the definition of a human carrying capacity mostly depends on to what degree we're willing to exploit/disrupt nature, but that is another issue). Most people are just trying to make it through the day and be happy and have no time to worry about such huge-scale problems when they're not sure if they'll be able to feed themselves or their families this week.

      The point here is that "make sarcastic remarks" or "hope there's a huge war/plague that kills everyone except the people I like" is not a real solution. As outlined above, we cannot just cut our population down to a more reasonable level, so we must focus on strategies to help minimize or reverse the damage that we DO cause.
      I feel like this response was a waste of time.
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        May 7 2013: I read it all. No regrets. Well put, Ben.

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