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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: Just like anything the government attempts to ban, there would most likely be an illegal market that would develop in the presence of a feline outlawing legislation. However, I believe there is technology we could develop in order to maintain our not-so-friendly friends. I think the idea of placing a bell on a cat’s collar to warn potential prey is a great idea, and it might be interesting if we took that idea a step further and developed collars that projected frequency sounds in the presence of certain prey in order to warn them of the cat’s presence. However, these collars would have to limit their range to only a few feet so as not to startle all the birds in a large radius around the cat. There are also other products out there on the market, such as the Birdsbesafe collar, that utilizes brightly colored collars to warn nearby birds. The Audubon Society also recommends a number of solutions, which includes increasing dense vegetation cover in yards to provide birds with more protection. Not only would this help protect the birds, but it would also promote planting local vegetation that would help create more habitat in our urban environments. Like many problems, it would be best to solve this one using a number of methods that are best suited for different locales. This would involve developing technologies that are best suited for the major bird populations of different regions.

    I don’t think a major ban on felines would be feasible, well-received, or necessarily have the outcome we are hoping for. Exterminating cats may bring an imbalance to our urban ecosystems, as well as opening the door for a new bird predator. I think it would be best to look forward and develop new technologies that allow us to work with what we’ve got and maintain these pets that have lived by our sides for such a long time.

    http://www.birdsbesafe.com/
    http://web4.audubon.org/bird/at_home/safecats.html

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