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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 7 2013: Does anybody know what type of funding there is for eradication of feral or stray cats? Is animal control always on the look out for them? I know euthanasia is very expensive And I wonder what peta would think about this idea... anybody a peta member or know someone who is and would have a peta influenced opinion over this topic? Are they more considered with biodiversity or over all protection of all animals?
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      May 7 2013: I know a couple members of PETA. I can pass your inquiry along to them if you'd like?
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        May 7 2013: yeah that'd be kind of cool! don't you agree? I feel like if something like this came about, they would definitely have some sort of input, along with any other animal protection organization.
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          May 7 2013: I agree, individuals like them who are involved in animal rights activism may be able to provide some valuable insight and perspective on this discussion. Neither of them (they are a married couple) appear to be on IM right now, but I have linked them to this thread in an email.
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      May 7 2013: I was also interested in what PETA might think about legislation allowing stray cats to be euthanized, so I did a little research and it seems they are more concerned about the cats than the biodiversity of our planet. However, they still encourage people to keep their cats indoors, or at the very least on a leash, for the protection of the cat rather than birds and small mammals. I'm certain they are aware of the threats cats are posing to local bird species, but they are never going to advocate the intentional killing of any animals, especially cats since they are so widely loved and respected by people.

      http://www.peta.org/issues/companion-animals/the-great-outdoors-not-for-cats.aspx
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        May 7 2013: Actually, looking through the PETA website and their stance on feral cats. They encourage trapping feral cats and taking them to a clinic that does include euthanasia. Here's the quote from their website:

        "Please do not allow the prospect of euthanasia to deter you from trapping cats. If you leave them where they are, they will almost certainly die a painful death. A painless injection is far kinder than any fate that feral cats will meet if left to survive on their own."

        This amazed me when I heard it, but it seems a lot more humane to give them a painless death than to let them suffer and die from disease, injury, maiming, or killed violently by humans. Here's their whole article on feral cats and how to handle them.

        http://www.peta.org/living/companion-animals/feral-cats.aspx
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      May 8 2013: To be honest, a lot of animal rights activists (myself included) don't support PETA because of their problematic overly sexualized and demeaning ad campaigns and the fact that their 'no kill' shelter actually euthanized many animals because they didn't have enough money to maintain them. Also a tiny fraction of money they raise actually goes toward helping animals, so I wouldn't necessarily take their word as what the entire animal rights community has to say. I think a lot of animal rights groups disagree with breeding pets in general and advocate instead for adopting needy animals from a shelter. There's also a difference between animal rights groups, which assert that animals have a right to their own life not controlled by humans, and animal welfare groups, which support using animals to satisfy certain human needs. So it all depends who you ask. Most seem to advocate for spay-neuter laws, adoption, and increased license laws for animals not fixed.

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