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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: Cats are useful on farms and in the country to keep mice out of homes and barns. But the problem with cats is the feral ones that take over and run wild in the cities. People that don't spay or neuter their cats should be responsible for taking care of any litters that come from that cat. Unfortunately that is not the case for most neighborhoods. Personally I would like to see something like Morgan's plan here in the US, even though it would never work. People like their pets, and cat people LOVE their cats.
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      May 8 2013: I think you bring up a very valid point that has been touched on in other parts of this thread. Many problems with cats arise from the fact that many are not neutered or spayed and in turn can create offspring that often run wild in cities reproducing and causing further problems. This issue seems like the most logical place to start if we want to really address the negative biodiversity impacts of cats. Programs and regulations that require cats to be neutered/spayed and that perform these services on stray cats seems like a good start
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        May 8 2013: Could it be possible to give new cat owners a choice when buying a cat to either neuter it or pay some sort of incident environmental fee? We should be dealing with the unregulated populations of feral and stray cats which probably are doing most of the damage.
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          May 8 2013: I like that idea. Or perhaps the incidental fee could be factored in to the cost of all new cats as a "tax". I tend to be cautious about adding costs to pet ownership, since there are an appalling number of people who choose to abandon their pets when incurring costs that they can't (or won't) pay, but this cost is up front and if a fixed amount of revenue is distributed among all new cat owners, I think there's a good chance it would work out to a very reasonable and affordable cost.

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