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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 6 2013: I think it would be useful to hold cat owners more accountable for their pets. Cats are often let outside of homes where they are allowed to roam about the neighborhood freely, killing birds and doing other damage as they please. This sever lack of supervision by owners is not allowed for other pets, such as dogs, which have to be on a leash or contained in a fenced yard. Stray dogs pose a more obvious threat to humans than do cats, so these different regulations are set in place with humans in mind but not birds/small mammals.

    In order to reduce this threat of cats to biodiversity, I think measures need to be taken to better contain cats. Maybe cats have to become strictly indoor cats or kept in covered pens outside. I do agree with a couple of Morgan's points, mostly the idea of chipping cats and fining owners if they escape their homes/cause destruction, but not with the end goal of eradicating cats. I think the chips would be necessary to keep track of owners/make them more accountable for their cats, and a fine would encourage better containment and supervision of pet cats. Although this doesn't help with the feral cat problems, I think it is a step in right direction.
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      May 8 2013: i would agree that measures should be taken so that cats cant be allowed to roam outside, but is this even practical? how would you chip a cat and then make sure it always stays inside? i just dont see how anyone could realistically regulate when a cat goes in and outside.

      Yes, owners should be held responsible for their animals, and i agree that if you didnt pay attention to a dog it would be a huge deal vs cats do roam free. It is sad that the regulations are set in place to only really care about humans and not the other species that the cats threaten.

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