I do realize that there are problems for someone like me writing about what feral and free-roaming cats do to an ecosystem.
I am not a cat person.
At least, I’m not a domestic cat person.
I have no problem with our native wild cats, be they Canada lynx or jaguars.
But if I start writing about the ecological effects of feral and free-roaming cat predation, I get called a cat hater.
Well, I don’t have a good defense for that. I really don’t like domestic cats.
There, I said it. I don’t like cats. (Maybe I like an emotionally shallow animal. I don’t know).
My reason for disliking cats isn’t why I have issues with free-roaming and feral cats.
There are two very good reasons for my problem with cats:
One is that they are an introduced species that breeds very rapidly.
And two is they are the epitome of what has been termed the mesopredator release hypothesis.
Mesopredators are small “B-list” predators that would normally have their numbers checked by larger predators in the ecosystems.
Of course, if domestic cats were native, their numbers would have been checked by native predators like cougars and wolves.
But now that both cougars and wolves are gone from most of their range, the cats can breed up in pretty large numbers.
Wolves and cougars don’t normally target small prey– why would a 150-pound cougar climb a tree to raid a robin nest? It would be a complete waste of energy for the amount of calories available.
But domestic cats will readily climb trees to raid bird nests.
Contrary to Farley Mowat’s book, wolves really don’t waste time hunting mice and voles, but cats hunt mice and voles for fun.
That’s as much as 15 percent of the entire bird population in the country!
And feral cats, the animals we’re supposed to trap, neuter, and release, kill more native wildlife than domestic ones.
In the United States, we have as many as 164 million cats, and as many has 80 million of those are ferals, the vast majority of which cannot be tamed and serve no greater purpose other than to kill native wildlife and spread disease.
So what’s the solution?
Cats that are owned should be kept indoors or in enclosures outdoors. That sounds like a common sense solution, but of course, it’s attacked because you’re not allowing your cat “freedom,” which really means you are okay with your cat having the freedom to get FIV, hit by car, or killed by a coyote or fisher.
But fer feral cats, the solution isn’t even that pleasant.
it’s not nice at all.
Hannah Waters at the Culturing Science blog lays out the problem, which the authors of the aforementioned study tactfully avoid:
So the obvious answer then is that, if we value biodiversity and wildlife and can manage to overcome our predilection for cute cat faces over cute bird faces, cat populations should be controlled through humane killing, just like many other invasive species.
But the funny thing is that no one suggests that. In compulsively researching this blog post, I read many papers showing that trap-neuter-release doesn’t work, or studies showing that, in computer models, euthanasia reduces cat populations more effectively than trap-neuter-release. But then in their concluding paragraphs, after providing evidence that current methods aren’t working, the action steps proposed by the authors are: (1) all pets should be neutered and (2) owners should be be better educated so they don’t abandon their cats.
The thing about cats is they do readily breed on their own in the wild.
Considering how little cats are removed from the Libyca wildcat, they having been selectively bred for very long, and indeed, it’s likely for most of the history with us, they have been animals that lived in a sort of semi-domesticated status. Feral cat colonies, as they exist, are likely the source for most of the domestic cats we have in homes today, and these colonies likely existed for thousands of years in the Old World before most people ever thought of keeping them as pets.
But in the US, these colonies are all under 400 years old. No native mesopredator has ever been able to build up in such vast numbers as the domestic cat. I guarantee you that there are not 160 million raccoons or gray foxes in the United States, and though they certainly are taking their toll on native bird and small mammal species, there is no way native mesopredator release issues equal those of the domestic cat.
If this were any other species– say. a raccoon dog, which is a nasty introduced mesopredator in parts of Eastern, Central, and Northern Europe– people would be okay with killing them.
But as soon as you say that the only effective way to deal with the feral cat problem is humanely killing them, you might as well be the reincarnation of Hitler.
Indeed, there are some people, who even call themselves environmentalists, who contend that there are no invasive species and that we shouldn’t killed any animals for any reason.
That’s a recipe for mass extinction, because the only animals that are going to survive are those that have been able to live with human civilization. At its most extreme, we could wind up with a country in which the main predator in the ecosystem is the domestic cat, which feeds on house mice, English sparrows, European starlings, and pigeons.
That’s not what we need.
And that’s not a future we should look forward to.