Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cats Kill...

Well, here I am again...going on about outside cats. I used to have cats (but have developed an allergy,) and yes, some were outside cats. But, that was before I learned better; and I just read some new data. Cats are an invasive species and reek havoc on native wildlife. I started getting a clue that perhaps I should contain my pet when my cat, Spike, decided beheading my neighbor's tulips was great fun. He went right down the row; jumping on a beautiful flower, pulling it down and kicking it apart with his back legs as he chewed the petals off. Oh my he had fun...and made my neighbor so mad! Rightfully so; I got just as mad when my other neighbor's dog killed and buried Spike. So yes, through the years I've decided cats do belong indoors and have found even a feral kitten will make a fine, indoor pet.

The following includes bits and pieces of a recent article that came to my attention. As you read, remember that there are more owned cats than feral cats...and some 47% of owned cats are allowed outside...where they hunt. Much analysis is based on each cat killing only eight birds per year...and I'm sure we all know pets who bring home far more dead birds than that...not to mention mice, voles, lizards, and bats. Yes...even well-fed pets make a huge dent in local flora and fauna.

(Washington, D.C., December 8, 2010) A new, peer-reviewed study report titled, Feral Cats and Their Management from the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, has put the annual economic loss from feral cat predation on birds in the United States at $17 billion. The report analyzes existing research on management of the burgeoning feral cat population – over 60 million and counting -- in the United States.

Feral cats are domestic cats that have gone wild. They cause significant losses to populations of native birds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians; can transmit several diseases such as rabies and toxoplasmosis; and may be a general nuisance. Cats are the definitive host of the parasite taxoplasmosis; the disease can affect the brain, lung, heart, eyes, or liver. Serious consequences are evident in pregnant women as well as the young, the old, and those with compromised immune systems.

"Communities seeking a solution to their feral cat problems need to consider the science on the issue and the well being of animals impacted by feral cats as well as the cats themselves. These other animals – birds especially – don’t deserve to die at the hands of a predator introduced into their environment by irresponsible pet owners. A humane decision-making process on this issue must also recognize that feral cats live short, miserable lives because of disease, other predators, severe weather and traffic hazards. Thus their life expectancy is about one third as long as owned cats,” said Darin Schroeder, Vice President for Conservation Advocacy for American Bird Conservancy.

Some of the many findings of the report include:

• Feral cats are invasive and pose a threat to native fauna and public health.

• Three separate studies showed that most feral cats (62 to 80 percent) carry the parasite responsible for toxoplasmosis – a condition of special concern to pregnant women.

• Cats are responsible for the extinction of at least 33 species of birds.

• Feral cats kill an estimated 480 million birds in the U.S. each year (the study did not address the question of bird predation by owned cats. Studies suggest that there are 80 million owned cats in the U.S. and that 43 percent have access to the outdoors. Total cat predation on birds is likely around one billion birds per year, though some analysis suggest much higher figures.)

• Cats kill far more native wildlife species than nuisance (invasive) species.

• Cats will kill wildlife no matter how well they are fed; they kill for sport & play.

• The life expectancy of a feral cat is 3-5 years as opposed to 15 years for owned cats, which sometimes live well into their twenties.

Feral cats are prolific breeders and can produce up to five litters per year. Females give birth to 2-10 kittens per litter. The Humane Society estimates that a pair of breeding cats and their offspring can produce over 400,000 cats in seven years under ideal conditions, assuming none die.

About 60 to 88 million cats are owned in the US and 60 million more are feral. Outdoor cats pose a serious threat to native wildlife, particularly birds. While the loss of habitat is the primary cause of species extinctions, cats are responsible for the extinction of at least 33 species of birds around the world. Cats kill an estimated 480 million birds around the world (assuming eight birds killed per feral cat per year). Estimates indicate that between 500-000 and 8 million birds are killed by rural cats each year...not counting damage by urban cats.

Proponents of feral cats and those who insist their cats should be allowed outdoors, suggest that well-fed cats do not prey on wildlife. Research shows that cats maintain their predatory instincts, no matter how well fed they are. The diets of well-fed house-based cats in Sweden consisted of 15-90% native prey, depending on availability.

Cats are opportunistic hunters, taking any small animal available, such as pheasants, quail, grouse, turkeys and waterfowl. They also impact free-ranging chickens and other domestic fowl. Cat owners should be aware that feral cats also kill pet house-cats that are allowed outside.

Feral cats pose risks to public health and safety. Unlike owned cats that are required by law to be vaccinated; few feral cats are. Feral cats can transmit diseases to humans and other cats, including cat scratch fever, plague, rabies, ringworm, salmonellosis and taxoplasmosis. In fact, in 3 separate studies 62-80% of feral cats tested positive for taxoplasmosis...a disease of serious concern for pregnant women as well as older and younger members of the population.

As a cat owner who used to let cats roam, I had no idea that people have to fence cats out of their gardens and children's sand boxes for reasons other than just being a picky. Cats cause problems when they defecate in food-growing gardens, not to mention the unsightly damage they cause when murdering tulips. Seriously, even if you believe your cat doesn't poop in the kiddies sandbox, please consider what it contributes to in dead wildlife...for the fun of it.

Read the entire article is HERE. Photos from Wikipedia.


Amy said...

jessalu Bev. Take a chill pill. Guess what, Dave & I saw a spotted Towhee at the window today, but Rocket ate it. JUST KIDDING. He is about 98% indoors anyway

Beverly said...

jessalu? Wassat, you brat? Not only do you call me Bev, when you KNOW better, you also rub it in about the Towhee. Lordy, yer awful mean! I STILL have yet to see one in MY yard, though my birding neighbor has them allatime and a couple weeks ago even had an Eastern Towhee; quite a big deal.

Bah Humbug...and congrats!

Beverly said...

PS, I should say that about a month ago I started tossing seed under the Blue Spruce and around the edges of the lawn where I let the grass get wild and tall. Yes, I'm bribing the no avail (so far).

That bird is becoming my nemesis!

Anonymous said...

Some cat owners may be right when they say that their individual cats don't hunt. That's very unsual though, but seems to happen. I wish I had some bird as a pet alongside my cat as she grew up, so they'd be "friends", and perhaps my cat wouldn't get pigeons and doves at the porch. She does not even goes out but she manages to get birds every now and then even in a 4m square space.

Personally I think that the best way to go would be to castrate feral cats and return them to the wild. Castrated cats, specially females, will still mate, but won't reproduce. At the same time they're still competing against "new" feral cats and make potentially fertile males waste time over nothing.

I guess that there's even some math models that suggest that this is more effective to keep the feral population as small as possible.

Not that this is an "alternative" to demanding more responsibility from cat owners anyway. Both should go together.