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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: From what I have read in this conversation it sounds like Australia is the leading nation in cat control... perhaps they will save us when cats inevitably try to take over the world ;) In all seriousness though, we should definitely be taking notice of Australia's efforts and possibly follow their lead. It is outrageous to think that anyone is going to be willing to get rid of their cat(s) to save a few birds from being killed in their backyard, as that is how the average person will view the situation, so we have to come up with a better solution.

    While the cats are technically the ones doing all the killing, humans are truly the ones to blame, as we are the ones who first brought cats to the US and we are the ones allowing them to cause as much damage as they are causing. I think that the government should require cat owners to have a stricter control on their pets, possibly implementing laws that require cats to be on a leash when outside, or making it illegal for cats to be outside altogether.
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      May 8 2013: I do agree that there should be some type of regulation on cat ownership. Maybe there could be a law that you can only have one cat per household, or try to slow the reproduction of cats for a few years by getting many female cats spaded and require everyone that wants to own a cat get it from the pound or some other program for stray/feral cats. That might eliminate the need to use euthanasia to take care of the stray/feral cat problem that is talked about in the comment above.
      I think that it is just kind of unreasonable to make a law to have indoor cats or have cats on a leash outside. I know many outside cats and if they were not free to roam as they please they would freak out. And it would be so easy to break a rule like that and very hard to regulate. Maybe there could be a registry for the percent of cats that are spade per state and have a lower limit on the percent.
      Over all this is going to be a very hard idea to get people on board with because like you said, people that love their cats are going to choose their cats over the loss of birds and mammals.
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      May 8 2013: Yes, I agree with your idea that people are the ones to blame and are the source of this problem. Instead of eliminating the cat, I think the most effective way is to keep invasive cat indoors. This is a mutually beneficial solution. This can eliminate the threat of cat predation and also protect cats themselves. According the to American Humane Society, cats that are allowed to roam outside live an average of 3 years while indoor cats typically reach an average age of 15 years. Humane traps can also work to trap visiting cat and transport them to local animal shelter safely. This works well for stray or troublesome cats.

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