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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 think overall Morgan's idea seems right; however, his way to address the issue was radical, especially, in terms of dealing with one of favorite pets for human being. First of all, people are not ecologists or biologists. Statistics and data do not open our minds and convince the importance of cat control. Number is just a number. For this issue, I think we need more political approach than science.
    As the first step, to make a documentary like the National Geography, or even TED Talk seems a good idea to convince people why we need a cat control for preservation wildlife. Such the visual information is, sometimes, more effective than a well written article. The next step will be to start indirect and passive controls. Legislation of registration and neutering of domestic cat is a good example. It does not really kill or actively remove cat by human hands, but it prevents that more escaped cats flow in the wild life system. Especially, Registration of cat with small under skin-implanted magnetic chip is important for next action to give strong responsibilities to cat holders. Based on registration of cats, we can give fines when finding cat holders with unneutered cats or holders who do not care cats properly. Additionally, taxation for cat holders is also good idea. This tax can be used for restoring destroyed wild life by cat and neutering street cats. Meanwhile, we can capture street cats and neuter them and send the humane society or adopt cats to people who want. This action is very important because at least, we have a good excuse that “we try to save cats by adoptions, but you guys do not want. Soooo, there is no option..”

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