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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 8 2013: It seems good to control the number of stray and feral cats to protect wildlife such as birds and mammals, especially threatened species. However, I do not agree with Morgan's idea. We need to regulate the population of stay or feral cats toward decreasing its population, but not to eliminate them potentially.
    As stray and feral cats appeared to wild, they got involved in the nature; in addition, they affected to form the ecosystem. It means that they are acting as one of member in the nature group. As existing as both predator and prey, these cats affect on balancing the species in the ecosystem. If people get involved in the balanced ecosystem and try to eliminate the cats potentially, it would affect negatively on the interconnection between the speceis in the ecosystem and provoke unbalanced population. Gareth Morgan might overlook that all species involved in an ecosystem are interconnected with each other, and it can unbalance the group. So, what I concern is that artificially regulating the populations of stray or feral cats to protect birds may cause increasing the number of birds, dramatically decreasing other species which are bird's prey.
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      May 8 2013: I agree with you. This seems immoral that in order to save other species, cants would become extinct if Morgan's idea is spread throughout the world. However, we need some legislation to control this matter.
      I don't know how cat-lovers would react on this matter though. I am one of car-lovers, but I do not like people who do not concern how their cats behave in public. Definitely, we need some negotiation to solve this problem.
      As Clinton French mentioned possible regulations to control cats below, these might help both cats and our ecosystem.

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