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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 8 2013: I agree chipping cats and registering them seems like a great idea. I think Morgan's suggestion is very extreme and I don't see that working out here. Since cats cannot be contained like dogs it would be best if a law could be passed that all cats had to be spayed or neutered unless the owner had a special permit for breeding. I see this being very hard to control though since cats roam free and its hard to tell if cats even belong to anyone sometimes. The only other way I see something like this really working would be to go out and spay and neuter every cat we find but that would be very costly and then we also face cat extinction which I imagine will create a huge increase in rodent problems and more. Cats shouldn't disappear we just need to find a happy medium!
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      May 8 2013: I agree with you and I said similar things in an earlier post. I did want to make one comment though.... We do already have a system in place to capture and spay/neuter stray and feral cats. I have helped participate in the program and a lot of good is done by this. We have seen the population of feral/stray cats reduced in areas where we did this. Volunteer vets do the procedures and college students provided a lot of the extra help as well as community members. If we could expand this program we could vastly decrease the wild population.
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        May 8 2013: This is really cool! Im wondering how this is applied on the national scale and what percentage of feral/strays are tagged or neutered. How many feral/ strays are born from stray parents and how many just escape from a domesticated environment? Is this system also implemented for dogs, or is it primarily just for cats?
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      May 8 2013: I like your idea of having a law passed for spaying and neutering all cats, unless you are a breeder. I also agree that there should be some control for the feral cats. However, cats are a keystone species and without them there could be disruption to other species. Complete eradication is a drastic move, so I agree that there needs to be a happy medium.

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