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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: Because cats are so fertile (one female can have several litters a year) I don't think that decreasing cat ownership is the solution but rather making cats flat out illegal. For similar reasons, trap-neuter-release programs aren't effective at controlling cat populations.

    I think that cats should be considered as exotic animals, which, like other exotic species if released into the wild can cause harm to natural ecosystems.

    I propose we make cats (that aren't registered by a certain date) illegal to own as pets or be bred. As a precautionary measure, all registered cats would be spayed or neutered. All stray cats that aren't registered before said date would be euthanized. In this way we could phase out cats as pets.

    As long as humans are allowed to own cats as pets, they will go feral and wild animals will be killed by house cats and feral cats alike.

    Undoubtedly, there will be those that protest and say it infringes on their freedoms but we need to make difficult choices now that species extinction is happening so rapidly . Its for the greater good and cats are just too destructive to justify.
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      May 7 2013: I mentioned on some one else's earlier but you can't really regulate cat owners, because of the massive amount of cat births that can happen. Millions of cats a year are born, and many of those cats are given or sold away to friends and such. Owners would also have an uproar not only that innocent cats are being euthanized, but also that cats that get away without their collar could mistakenly be put down. This seems like a similar strategy to Mr. Morgan's, and as much as i think these need to happen. I don't see a realistic way to get them approved by citizens or government officials.
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      May 7 2013: I'm going to jump in here, I'm no expert, but I am a citizen who has owned 1 cat when I was a young child.
      It was the runt of a litter. It's mom left him behind in our back yard, and we nursed it to health and kept him, until one day he ran away and got runned over by a car. (sob)

      It seems that some individuals are responsible pet owners. Others, are clearly not.

      I don't see anything wrong with going around and picking up stray cats, and doing what needs to be done with them. I also don't see anything wrong in implementing a law that spells out what you are required to do if you own a cat. I think most citizens would approve such laws if they were educated and knowledgeable on the subject.

      Like everything else, I think there is a lack of knowledge as to the threats these cats pose to biodiversity.
      I'm hopeful that in the future something will be done about it. Everything takes time....the waiting is the
      hard part.
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      May 7 2013: While I agree that cats are posing a serious risk to the health of many species, it's not as simple to solve as you are putting it, Chelsea. How will cat breeders continue to make money if it is illegal to own a cat that is still fully capable of producing offspring? And what about all of the animals rights activists who will undoubtedly fight the legislation to kill stray cats? After all, humans are the ones who put those cats on the streets, no? Who's to say the stray cats are the ones to blame when, in fact, it is irresponsible cat owners?
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        May 7 2013: I agree, that its' the irresponsible cat owners who are to blame, but I think there will always be irresponsible cat owners that will let their cats out to kill and become strays. Also, keeping cats in the house doesn't seem very humane as others have pointed out, so I think the best thing to do is make cat ownership illegal. Not that this type of legislation would have any hopes of passing in the US in the near future.

        Surprisingly, groups such as PETA condone euthanasia of stray cats because they don't do well in the wild, often succumbing to disease, being hit by cars, not getting adequate nutrition, etc.
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      May 7 2013: Your idea would definitely reduce the impact cats have on biodiversity, but it could never actually be implemented, at least in the United States. Most of the public would consider making cats full-on illegal an infringement on their rights. I mean, I don't think the "right to bear cats" is explicitly written in the constitution, but cat and dog ownership are pretty big aspects of American culture. And as Mary said, the issue is compounded by a lack of awareness. Few people realize how many animals cats kill, and fewer people care. Very few would accept the prohibition and euthanasia of a bunch of cats to save some random species of bird they've never hear of. I would suggest that we make cat owners more responsible by requiring the same kind of registration process as for dogs, mandating spaying/neutering, and increasing our efforts to catch and destroy feral cats. Of course all this requires money, and I don't know how it would work out in terms of economic feasibility.
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      May 8 2013: Honestly, I just don't feel like we'd ever be able to truly phase out cats and pets, and I'm pretty sure that I and many other people don't want to. While I do agree that cats have definitely caused some serious problems for biodiversity with the mass amounts of killings animals they've done, I don't think the answer is to get rid of them as pets. I don't think it's feasible or ethical to euthanize all stray cats and those that escape euthanasia would just continue to reproduce, and I think that if cats are going to be around in significant numbers anyway, it's better that they're domesticated than feral.
    • May 8 2013: Chelsea, I think that your idea about taking care of the large cat population seems like the only way to regulate the damage that cats do to biodiversity. While it does seem rather far fetched to try and round up all stay cats, that seems like the best idea I've heard. If this was implemented, not all cats would be eliminated, but a large amount of the stray cats would be reduced. I just don't think that the American people would allow this to happen, just because so many are very attached to their cats.

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