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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: I believe the only way to curtail death by cats is to limit breeding by mandatory neutering. With a bounty on any intact male cat found outdoors. Only by expensive permit would breeders be allowed to have males for breeding stock.

    A live trapping bounty on non-neutered male cats would promote the capture of them with limited expense paid for by a neutering tax. (Male cats only because it is obvious if they are sexually intact.)

    Owners who had any concern for their precious tomcat family member will either have to have them neutered or never let them outdoors.
    This system would not eliminate the carnage but would significantly reduce the death toll through lowering the cat population.
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      May 7 2013: Would that really lower the cat population though? What about the people that decide to rebel against it and breed them secretly from within the confines of their own homes? I believe that once we start giving people an ultimatum there will be backlash because they don't want to be forced to have to neuter their cats/ never let them outside.
      • May 7 2013: I agree, Rachel, I think this will have a negative cause-and-effect and stimulate illegal activity, just like anything else that is illegal... Could 'home-breeding' under dodgy and unsanitary conditions have negative effects on the feline species altogether?
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          May 7 2013: Lizanne, I think that 'home-breeding' under unsanitary conditions could lead to higher rates of disease within the feline species.If that ends up happening could it lead to a bigger problem than we're already facing?
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        May 7 2013: I agree that there would be people who rebel against it as it is human nature but if we educate everyone as to why this is going into effect I feel like more people would be on the side that this is a good way to decrease the population of cats and why we need the decrease and the regulation. A handful of people breeding and making a black market on cats wouldn't affect the population that much.

        The problem I do see with this solution would be the price tag for regulation.... the trapping and neutering of the males.
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          May 7 2013: Brianna, I think that they would haveto end up applying a tax that would go to paying for the trapping and neutering of these felines. I also believe that both the males and females would have to be fixed because it will take a long time to not only neuter the babies being produced now, but also to catch and neuter all the domestic and feral cats that are already out there before they continue to reproduce.
      • May 8 2013: Exactly my point, Rachel!
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      May 8 2013: Dale! Thanks for contributing to the conversation!!

      Compulsory sterilization and registration, with enforcement, are absolutely necessary. I have no faith that the general pet owning public will suddenly start caring about other organisms or acting more responsibly. Cat ownership must be better regulated, to the degree that a dog is at least. I dunno about the bounty idea though. I feel like offering money for bringing in random cats could lead to some dubious activity..but then again... bounty/reward systems already exists for lots of other invasives.

      Plants: http://ipaw.org/bounty.aspx

      Northern Pikeminnow aka Squawfish : http://www.pikeminnow.org/

      This pikeminnow bounty program is in Oregon, by the way. There are even some tagged pikeminnow out there that are redeemable for $500. I'm sure this is a good motivator!

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