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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'm very much a cat lover so if any of my comments seem biast I apologize.

    Like the situation in New Zealand, a ban on felines (or even certain kinds of more agressive, predator felines) would not be well received in the United States, as the appeal for cats as pets is far too strong. However, I understand something must be done to help prevent cats from killing so many animals.

    I'm surprised that declawing cats has had no effects on the loss of bird/rodent species, as intuitively I would've thought that removing claws would physically handicap cats (as they would only be able to use their paws and teeth to hunt -- much more difficult). The idea of keeping cats indoors is cruel in my view; they are naturally outdoor animals,and if they are to be kept as pets, "members of the family," they should have the right to go outside. I do think the best option would be to put bells on their collars, or something that makes noise when the cat moves, in order to warn prey that a predator is near. While it'd most likely be frustrating to the cats, it's a necessary step to preserving biological diversity among bird and rodent species. Another idea would be to restrict cats to smaller outdoor areas. A friend of mine only allows his cats into his backyard, so I'd assume his cats would have little effect on the bird/rodent population in the area. One problem with this would be the lack of backyards in a given rural area (perhaps due to a creek or other biome existing around a house. Another problem is (if a household doesn't have a fence), the cost of building a fence just for the ability to own a cat... I could be wrong with this assumption that restricting cats' access to prey will work, but for now I think this could be another feasible option
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      May 7 2013: It would take a mighty fence to hold in most cats. It seems that many people aren't going to care about this problem unless there are serious consequences. It's reasonable to establish the same rules for cats as dogs. If your cat is caught running around, and you don't want it to be euthanized, you have to pay a fine. This would at least slow down the impact from pet cats. As for feral cats, maybe we encourage adolescent boys to stop playing video games, and start hunting collarless cats. We'll give them a bag of pop rocks for every cat they catch, and the cats can be put down humanely.
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        May 7 2013: Hahah, interesting proposition with the cat hunting. I do like the idea of consequences; perhaps by educating the general public (or somehow targeting cat owners) about the impact of cats on different animals, we can somehow increase the awareness of what's actually happening. By publicizing the global and long term consequences some people may take action by compensating with their cats (somehow). This is definitely a hard issue to discuss considering people's emotional connections to their pets
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          May 7 2013: It brings to mind the current issue with gun control, and the uproar it is causing in this country. Some of the same people fighting for gun rights, along with many other demographics would be outraged if the government tried to take serious action against cats. The internet, which is already obsessed with cats, would explode with criticism, and it would be political suicide for whoever brought it to the table. I can see it now on Fox News, "President Obama, our dog eating president, is trying to set up death panels for your family cat! So that we can save a few RATS!! Fascism!"
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        May 8 2013: Interesting.
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        May 8 2013: Haha! RATS! Love it. It's true, you could never get away with introducing this legislation under a democrat because this would equate to our freedoms being compromised. But perhaps we could slip it into some other legislation as an earmark from a conservative :D

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