TED Conversations

Jon Cox

This conversation is closed.

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


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!


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • May 7 2013: I really doubt that a measure would ever be passed that would completely eliminate cats. I think a better use of time and resources could be spent towards developing a form of birth control in the form of a shot rather than having to nuder cats. If this was developed in would allow areas to control the wild populations of cats by capturing them and giving them a shot before releasing them.
    Education of the public can also help this issue. Solutions as simple as a bell on a cats collar can greatly reduce the amount of animals they are able to capture.
    • thumb
      May 7 2013: There are a few reasons neutering cats works really well. First off, it's permanent. The cat should no longer be able to reproduce, sterilizing shots in humans only work for about a few years before they wear out. Not to mention the amount of synthetic hormones it would take to permanently sterilize these cats. We already have enough to worry about just with elevated levels of human hormones being found in drinking water. As much as it sounds good to just give these cats a quick and painless shot, I don't think this is a very realistic option. Neutering works ~100% of the time and you don't have to worry about hormonal cats running around lol.
      • May 8 2013: I agree that it obviously is more beneficial to neuter. But that costs a lot of time and money to get stray cats neutered. There is a lot of research actually being done on the idea of administering a sterility shot. I understand the concerns that you bring up associated with that though. But even if the shot only made the animal sterile for a period of time it could still help in controlling the population.
    • thumb
      May 8 2013: Finding a faster way to neuter or spay cats like through a shot is a very interesting idea. This would make the process of capturing, altering, and releasing feral cats much faster and more efficient, leading to a larger impact on the population thus reducing the number of native species killed by cats.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.