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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


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!


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    May 8 2013: I, like many believe that making sure cats are spayed or neutered is the most realistic and efficient method for controlling cats, both domesticated and feral. Yes of course this doesn't immediately solve the issue with cats killing birds and other small mammals, but running around and catching/killing cats is inhumane and there is no way such a proposal would pass. As of now, the most common method of control used is the trap, neuter and return method. According to the Humane Society it is a "...non-lethal strategy to reduce the number of feral cats and improve the quality of life for cats, birds, wildlife, and people."(1) Not only do they neuter the feral cats that have been caught, they are also vaccinated for rabies. To recognize a feral cat that has been neutered and vaccinated, they surgically tip one of the cats ears. There is no doubt such a method of control would take it's time to show positive results. Cats that have been neutered continue to kill birds and mammals, but as far as I see it there is no other likely plan. Of course TNR procedures cost money, and unfortunately "TNR is a strategy that many dedicated caretakers pay for out of their own pockets to help improve the lives of feral cats and reduce their numbers."(1) An effective TNR plan also requires a dedicated caretaker, which also cost money. Perhaps, like others have mentioned, there could be a tax payed by either cat owners or cat breeders which helps cover these costs.

    1. http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/feral_cats/qa/feral_cat_FAQs.html#What_is_TrapNeuterReturn_TNR
    • May 8 2013: The board-members of HSUS and SPCA are laughing all the way to their bank by exploiting suffering animals with TNR programs. You won't get any credible information from them. Their pockets and conflict of interests are just too deep.
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      May 8 2013: I agree with Justin that spaying and neutering cats is the best plan we have today to reduce the number of feral cats and reduce the number of wildlife killed by them. A tax on breeding or owning cats would also likely reduce the number of new cats and help control the current population. I think this method of reducing the number of cats combined with keeping cats indoors or keeping a closer eye on them outdoors would make a noticeable impact on reducing bird and small mammal deaths.

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