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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 6 2013: Actually in NSW those proposals are pretty much actually law and apply to both cats and dogs. It's illegal to sell kittens or puppies unless you are a registered breeder and they are all supposed to be chipped and neuterred unless the purchaser is a registered breeder.
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      May 7 2013: This unfortunately doesn't stop the "underground" business of puppy mills, nor the selling or giving away of puppies/kittens by people when their pet accidentally becomes pregnant.
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        May 7 2013: Granted no law stops people breaking the law but in other states in Australia it goes even further. In victoria you can be fined for allowing your cat to become pregnant.
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      Jon Cox

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      May 7 2013: From what I have read Australia seems to be leading the way in cat regulation for the sake of native wildlife. This is really admirable and I hope it catches on globally!
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        May 7 2013: Yes over here so much of our native wildlife is endemic that we pretty much accept the culling of feral cats and dogs as well as feral horses pigs buffalo etc. We have alot to lose.
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          May 7 2013: Definitely. Keep up the good work! Since I was young I've wanted to visit Australia to see some of the amazing plants and animals there. One of these days...

          Unfortunately I would bet money that the average adult in the U.S. wouldn't be able to name a single plant or animal endemic to this country. We all have a lot to lose, and most people don't realize it.

          Also, I was surprised to learn that Australia has the largest population of wild camels in the world, and they are not even native!
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        May 8 2013: The camels came in as beasts of burden but were let loose when superceded by trucks. Now they are exported for meat and racing in the Middle East, aswell as culled when necessary.

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