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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 feel that there should be legislation passed that qualifies more than one category of cat:

    1. indoor cat- A cat that is classified as this is not allowed to be outside and if a cat that is classified as this is found outside then its owners would be fined.
    2.outdoor/indoor cat- This sort of cat would require a permit of sorts, such that there will be a monetary price to having a cat that is an outdoor cat for those that prefer them.
    3 feral/stray cat- This sort of cat would be immediately picked up by animal control an either given to a home or euthanized(as a last resort)
    ALL people found in possession of an unclassified cat would be fined.

    Note: i am not a proponent of euthanasia, but it is the likely outcome of this sort of situation.
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      May 7 2013: I know there is a very strong stigma against euthanasia, but we dispose of plants all of the time. We spray herbicides to kill unwanted plants and insecticides to kill unwanted insects. What makes feral/stray cats or pets any different. If there is an area that has a persistent problem, why not control the population through the same means we control the diversity of life in our crops? Or, as mentioned earlier, sterilize them?

      There is a group in Singapore trying to save cats through humanitarian means that promotes the sterilization of strays and owned cats. Check out what the group is up to.

      http://www.catwelfare.org/aboutus
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        May 8 2013: Cats are viewed as a higher order being(not as high as humans) by most people.

        They have personalities and we therefore can relate to them and see ourselves in them.
        It is somewhat tantamount to asking people to kill someone else's son, for it may not be our cat, but it might be someone's cat.
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          May 8 2013: You also forget, that the Egyptians considered cats to be that of a God. Now a days, that idea isn't as mainstream in society, but instead has adopted the idea of a classic pet. It is highly unlikely that such a legislation will pass. For one thing, how will you regulate the indoor or outdoor cats? Cats are generally solitary animals that tend to wonder around of their own free will.

          Cats also have many liters that had a huge amount of offspring. If we send every cat that has no home to the animal control they will be overflowing with stray cats even more than they are right now. I agree with Walter that the cats who have no home should be sterilized so at least they won't be able to repopulate. Though the question of what to do with them overall to stop this massive extinction of other animals is still up in the air. It's difficult to put a price on an animal that is so integrated into society without finding huge flaws or resistance.
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          May 8 2013: Australian states and territories have recently taken a pretty firm stance on cats regarding the damage they do to endemic wildlife. There are some interesting laws being implemented and organized feral cat culls take place. Hunters are also encouraged to kill feral cats.

          Cats are very endearing, but at some point we will have to face reality.

          http://www.sportingshootermag.com.au/news/hunting-feral-cats

          This article discusses hunting as a countermeasure (in Aus). Apparently cats are divided into categories: Domestic, Stray, and Feral with distinctions between the three and a focus on feral cats as the problem.
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        May 8 2013: Also, If feral or strays are sick, injured, or starving it might serve as a moral obligation for population control or permit "vermin" control if rehabilitation is not an option. At what point do we leave the animals alone and not intervene with nature?
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      May 8 2013: Good point! I like your idea which might be possible to try.
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      May 8 2013: I think this is a good idea. It would be difficult though to come up with a method for keeping record of these different types of cats. For instance the human society suggests that feral cats be trapped, neutered, vaccinated for rabies, one ear surgically tipped for identification and then released. But what about cats that have recently been in a fight? I've seen a number of cats with large chunks missing from their ears. If such a cat had been TNR'd (trapped, neutered and released) then its record is essentially lost. How do we keep track of different classes of cats? Maybe it's as simple as placing a microchip inside each domestic cat that gives such information, and all one would have to do is use some sort of scanner which can read the chip. Ones without a chip could be TNR'd and chipped. This would also reduce the amount of stray cats as owners would be able to locate them! Unless of course the owners abandoned them. But it would take the guess work out of identifying a stray vs a feral cat.
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        May 8 2013: That's true. I am afraid how we could pay for that, and the owners are willing to pay for the system, which some countries already faced this problem in regulating dogs; it costs approximately $50 per cat or dog (1). Impanting a chip ensures to keep tracking though.
        (1)http://pets.webmd.com/features/microchipping-your-dog-or-cat
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        May 8 2013: I agree. It would be really hard to encourage people to pay more for a microchip, or any other sort of device to track their cats. And for stray cats coming into humane societies and such, who would pick up the cost for those cats getting chipped or sterilized. I think if there were more harsh guidelines (fees) to adopting and maintaining ownership of cats this could discourage people from getting cats at all. This could definitely cut back on the amount of stray and feral cats and their ability to procreate if less and less people are wanting cats. But, considering the staggering number of estimated cats in the U.S. ~160 million, the demand for cats decreasing due to harsher ownership guidelines would take a while. I definitely think the fact that cats are harming endemic species is a major issue and there needs to be a way to control it that will be popular among the public. Because ultimately people will want cats, just like people wanted alcohol during the prohibition, even though it was illegal. If the majority of the public is willing to support some sort of control mechanisms for cats, only then will we see an improvement. I love cats, but I definitely think there are way to many stray and feral cats in the world.
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      May 8 2013: There isn't such a thing as an indoor cat. Animals only live inside a house because people put them there. The only time I heard of such an animal was when I lived in Germany and knew American service people. Some of them had cats that they had pulled the claws out of so that they could not forage outside. In Germany this is illegal. One reason I was told it was illegal is because often people abandon their pets before they return to the US and because they have no claws they usually die before their claws have time to grow again.
      I think there are too many cats and dogs but while it is a business breeding and selling them it will take a while before much can be done.
      Animals need to be able to be outside and cats are not so easy to control. They often pick where they want to live. Many people think their cat spends the night roaming around and it is often curled up in a warm house where the owners have taken a "stray" in. A cat would have to be chained up and that is cruel.
      I can never imagine a country allowing the setting up of cat patrols which would catch and destroy cats on the loose. There would have to be herds of them first.
      To implement fines the cat would have to be caught and identified before the owner could be found. Would we have patrols carrying large nets, how would it be done? Should cats given into rescue homes be put down? If cats are caught, neutered and released, they cannot breed but they can carry on killing.
      What a quandary.

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