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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: When I first saw the large numbers of species that are being killed by cats, I was so surprised. I usually just think of cats as house pets just playing with mouse toys or laying around sleeping. There definitely needs to be something done to decrease the negative effects that cats have on the biodiversity around them, but I think Morgan's idea of completely eradicating cats in New Zealand is a very radical idea that would probably never gain acceptance. I do, however, agree with his idea of requiring all cats to be chipped. I know that there are already some breeders that have the cats chipped before selling them; when I got my cat, he came with a chip already. I think the chips make it a lot easier for owners to know where their cats are, making them easier to regulate.

    A few people have suggested to make all cats be indoor cats, but I don't know how this could really be regulated, as it is mainly up to the owners discretion whether they let their cats out or not. I also think that it is unfair to the cats to not let them roam around outside every once in a while. It would be cool if some sort of contraption was made that would allow cats to spend time outside, but limit how far they can go.
    • May 8 2013: You're right. Turning criminally irresponsible people into responsible ones with laws doesn't work. They're already criminally irresponsible. Criminals don't obey laws. They just don't care, about anyone nor anything, but what they want for themselves.

      Google for this complete string, as-is, including all quotes, for the answers you seek:

      "Licensing and laws do nothing to curb the problem." AND "I don't see anyone dumping cats where I live anymore." AND "irreversible consequences"

      That lengthy posting starts with the paragraph of:

      "Licensing and laws do nothing to curb the problem. If cats are required to be licensed then cat-lovers just stop putting collars on their cats, as they did by me. And they won't even bother getting them micro-chipped, especially not that They want absolutely nothing that can hold them legally responsible, liable, and accountable for the actions of their cats. It's why many of them even keep cats in the first place. We're not talking about the topmost responsible citizens of the world, you know. They don't want that responsibility of what their cat has done coming back on them. If they had even one iota of a sense of responsibility and respect for all other lives on this planet we wouldn't even be having these discussions."
    • May 8 2013: Clarissa, I agree with your views of Morgan's initiative. Chipping cats would be very effective in aiding in the loss of a runaway cat, but also allows for domesticated cats to have a chance every once in a while to not be stuck outside. A cat owner wouldn't have gotten a cat in the first place if he/she didn't want to have an animal that was, well, happy. In 2012, Washington D.C.'s mayor presented the idea of an indoor cat park, much like a dog park, to take care of this problem of indoor cats being allowed outside part time to socialize and explore. This would help reduce the problems of a loved family pet becoming a problem.


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