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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 don't think Morgan's initiative is a good idea. First of all, It seems like the action to eliminate the cats is not a moral one. How can you eliminate one species in order to protect the other? I mean, it is not fair to cats. Furthermore; this ban action is kind of break the normal food chain in my opinion. So, maybe one of the efficient ways to protect the wildlife is to create and protect habitats for them.
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      May 7 2013: I dont think banning all the cats in New Zealand is ever going to be possible. But I think an alternative to this is managing the stray cats and making sure that the pet owners spay and neuter their animals so the problem doesnt keep increasing. I think having a cheap (or even a free) clinic that offers spay and neutering would be extremely helpful. I do agree that the pet owners need to be more accountable to their pets as well. I also think that creating separate habitats in zoos or conservation sites would help the birds and keep the predators away from them. The main goal of conservation shouldnt be to exterminate one species to save another like Huan said but to find a way for both species to coexist and keep the pet lovers on the island happy.
    • May 8 2013: Huan you have to remember the initiative isn't one mans quest to eliminate cats from New Zealand, it is to control their free reign over all of the endemics that they prey on. As well they are not trying to eliminate them, his initiative is to have people stop replacing them, not start kitty internment camps. However I do agree with the idea of a habitat to protect the endemic species is a good idea, especially when there are all those feral cats out there hunting them down.

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